“That’s good old Lance Klusener stuff man.”
When Hardik Pandya was going all guns blazing on a sunny Saturday afternoon at the Newlands in Cape Town, the aged South African scribe beside me in the press box was constantly reminding me of Klusener — one of the greatest Protea all-rounders and impact players ever.
Well, considering his age, I imagine the gentleman must have seen a lot of Klusener, who on numerous occasions had bailed South Africa out of holes with his all-round efforts. On Day 2 of his Newlands Test, Pandya was seen in a similar role, first with the bat, then with the ball. He stood like a fireman when the Proteas were unleashing their fire.
Coming in at No 7 when India were 76/5 and in dire straits right after lunch, Pandya straightway walked down to Vernon Philander, the ball took a thick outside edge and went to the fence through the slip cordon.
That was the start of his counterattack, which lasted for 95 balls and yielded 93 precious runs for the visiting team. Pandya scored nearly half the runs that the entire Indian batting line-up managed. Barring his 93, the rest of the batsmen combined for only 102 runs. And remember, he had to deal with that lethal South African pace attack on that spicy Newlands wicket.
Let me tell you, it was not mindless slogging by any means. He was taking his chances and playing his natural game, which one believes is the ideal way to bat on this pitch.
At one point of time, with India tottering at 92/7, the South Africans were eying a lead of around 150 runs — which would have been decisive in this game. But Pandya did not let that happen. Having found support from Bhuvneshwar Kumar at the other end, he launched his offensive.
He was all over the crease, walking across his stumps, making his own space to go full monty. It didn't matter whether it was Philander, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel or Kagiso Rabada. Anything full was driven. Anything short outside off was cut to the fence. And when the South Africans pulled their length back, Pandya showed his back foot game. Even against the short stuff, he found scoring opportunities.
You need to have something special to score runs with a strike rate close to hundred on that pitch against that quality South African attack. And don’t forget, Pandya had never batted in these conditions before.
Yes, there were hits and misses. Yes, he took blows. But he made his presence felt at the crease. When Pandya was in that counterattacking mood, the South African team seemed clueless. It seemed like they were bowling without a plan. Faf Du Plessis was even forced to keep a long-stop to stop Pandya's adventurous cut shots over the slip cordon. At times there were four fielders patrolling the leg-side fence. Even that did not stop Pandya to find the gaps on a regular basis.
Furthermore, he not only played his own game, Pandya also guided Bhuvneshwar during his stay at the crease. He was constantly chatting with him, offering every possible support. It was this coordination which allowed the eighth wicket partnership to add those crucial 99 runs.
However, Rabada eventually cut Pandya’s innings short, seven runs before what would have been a sensational hundred. Probably the wicket of Bhuvneshwar a couple of overs before unsettled him, which resulted in the dismissal.
Well, irrespective of that missed ton, Pandya’s swagger was felt by everyone who was present at the Newlands on Saturday.
His innings, however, was not chanceless. He survived twice in his first 20 balls. First, he was given leg before wicket by the on-field umpire and the decision was overturned thanks to the DRS, and soon he was dropped on 15 by Dean Elgar at slip. Later in his innings, he offered a stumping opportunity against Keshav Maharaj which the hosts couldn’t grab.
But to be successful on this kind of a wicket, one does need a little bit of luck. Pandya got that and utilised it thoroughly. Thanks to his heroics, South Africa's first innings lead was reduced to a two-digit score (77 to be exact).
Later with the ball, Pandya bowled with the same confidence which was evident while he had the willow in his hand. Desperate for a breakthrough after 10 wicketless overs with the new ball, Virat Kohli asked Pandya to come in and the all-rounder had an immediate impact.
With a slightly outside-off-stump line, he was troubling Elgar right from the beginning. However, it was Aiden Markram who became the first scalp of Pandya soon followed by the edgy Elgar.
It is only because of his innings and two wickets that India were able to get a breathing space in this Test match. Pandya has single-handedly has kept India’s chance alive. Also, through his knock Pandya has shown his teammates how to tackle the mighty South African attack.
Interestingly, Pandya produced this all-round effort on the birthday of Kapil Dev, India’s greatest all-rounder ever.
What a coincidence!
And after knowing that the fellow South African journalist seemed even more amazed.