He made it appear as if it was just another day in office. If he had any inhibitions from the drama of the past few weeks that saw him take two more trans-continental flights than needed, Hardik Pandya appeared to have left them behind in his hotel room in Mount Maunganui before heading to the Bay Oval for the third one-day international.
And the Indian team management, upset with his brash comments on a TV show that led to team-mate KL Rahul and him being suspended by the Board of Control for Cricket in India, heaved a sigh of relief that it could sustain the pressure on New Zealand and at once resume its preparations for the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 in England and Wales.
It is in keeping with how things are falling in place for the Indian team. Along with Shikhar Dhawan’s return to form, Mohammed Shami rediscovering his appetite for white ball cricket and the sustained healthy battle for the middle-order slots among Kedar Jadhav, Dinesh Karthik and Ambati Rayudu, Pandya’s return to the side would have pleased the think-tank no end.
As skipper Virat Kohli leaves the team in deputy Rohit Sharma’s hand for the last two games, rested in consultation with the selectors, he will have liked to watch the Baroda all-rounder from close quarters and reassure himself that his first choice all-rounder had not lost any of the qualities that make him so valuable to the side.
Dhawan’s blitz at the start of India’s chase – apparently an insurance against the track slowing down considerably and making strokeplay difficult – half-centuries by Rohit Sharma and skipper Virat Kohli and the steady unbroken 77-run stand between Ambati Rayudu and Dinesh Karthik could not take away the limelight from Pandya.
Mohammed Shami, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal were among the wickets but it was Pandya’s spells that were more keenly watched by Indian fans. His first five overs, delivered mainly to the redoubtable pair of Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor, were economical.
His effort in the first 50 overs of the game meant that there was not much chatter about Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s hamstring injury. Without even having to bat in India’s chase of a sub-par target of 244 runs, Pandya was able to leave a strong imprint on the game. Of course, he is no Kapil Dev or Ian Botham or Jacques Kallis but, at the moment, he is a crucial cog in the wheel for India.
That he handled the pressure of walking into a game without having time to overcome the effects of the long flight is perhaps an indication of how he was able to keep his mind on the present and not worry about the events that unfurled after the TV show was broadcast. That he was asked to fly home from Australia and face a period of uncertainty seemed to have no bearing on his mind.
And as the New Zealand innings headed to the slog overs, he claimed the wickets of Henry Nicholls and Mitchell Santner to effectively end any dreams the Black Caps would have had of posting a challenging total. He did not bowl full tilt, delivering within himself, but his two for 45 in 10 overs would have delighted the captain Virat Kohli and coach Ravi Shastri.
Indeed, he lost no time in showing his immense value to the side as the all-rounder by sending down 10 overs. His replacement, Vijay Shankar, had not delivered 10 overs in any of the three one-day internationals that he has played in Australia and New Zealand. Pandya’s presence as the third seamer can always help the team pick bowlers to suit the conditions.
It is to India’s credit that the team coped with Pandya’s non-availability well, but his return has shown yet again how crucial he is to providing balance to the XI. The depth in the squad did not allow India’s preparations for the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 to be affected very much when he was picking up frequent flyer miles as he flew home and then to New Zealand.
The Baroda all-rounder offered an excellent example of his amazing fielding skills in the New Zealand innings just as it was gathering steam through a partnership between Williamson and Taylor. His effort to send back Williamson when the captain was rebuilding the team’s innings will be spoken about for a while, even in this age when memories from ODIs have a shorter shelf-life.
Williamson skipped down the track to flick Chahal with assurance and aplomb but he did not reckon with Pandya’s alacrity at short mid-wicket. He flung himself to the left in the manner of a football goal-keeper diving to parry a shot away from the net and completed a two-handed catch when flying parallel to the ground.
For some, it was a moment of magic. For a fit and ready Hardik Pandya, it was just another day at work.