So what if he doesn't have a First Class hundred? Silencing all his critics, Hardik Pandya scored a maiden Test and First Class hundred off 86 balls. It included some sensational hitting, including 26 off one over from Malinda Pushpakumara, the most by an Indian in an over in Test cricket, that put Sri Lanka on the back foot.
Russel Arnold had voiced his opinion on Twitter after day one that Sri Lanka were ahead in the game. As if to dispel all such notions, the Baroda all-rounder walked in, consolidated in a 62-run stand with Kuldeep Yadav and then took the attack to the Lankans in an entertaining 10th wicket partnership with Umesh Yadav.
That Umesh contributed only three runs in that 66-run stand is evidence of the massacre that Pandya exhibited at Pallekele. It is hard to believe that Pandya is just playing his third Test match. Gosh, the boy has some nerves.
A debut half-century had already revealed to the critics that Pandya was someone whom India could trust in the all-rounder’s role. However, there was still widespread criticism on his inclusion ahead of Kuldeep at the SSC for the second Test.
But this lad is intent on shutting his critics up and if there were any remaining before the Pallekele Test, they are well hidden in their shell right now. Such was the authority and flair that Pandya showcased, with India in a decent, but slightly precarious position.
Slow but steady start
Pandya was slow to start off as India lost Wriddhiman Saha early in the day. He settled down with Kuldeep as the Lankan seamers kept tempting him with short balls. Pandya did not curb his natural instincts to pull, and despite missing a few, did enough damage to force a change of plans from the Lankans.
The 50-run stand between Kuldeep and Pandya came at a somewhat lethargic pace as the latter took 44 deliveries to reach 29. He, however, showed immediate signs of acceleration after the landmark was breached, stepping out and launching Pushpakumara over mid-on for four, but still seemed to be confused about the timing of launching an attack. Then, Lakshan Sandakan dismissing Kuldeep to end a stable stand set Pandya off. He launched the Chinaman for the first six of the innings and soon reached his half-century.
Mohammed Shami was gone next over and now the all-rounder had no one to wait for. The attack had to be launched and he knew it. He slapped Sandakan, two balls later, over mid-off to register his second six of the innings before the entertainment-max over ensued.
The 116th over
Pushpakumara to Pandya
Ball 1: FOUR. Slog across the line and through cow corner for a boundary.
Ball 2: FOUR. Steps out and smacks the left-arm spinner straight, all along the ground.
Ball 3: SIX. Similar ball, similar shot, but this time in the air. Clears the ropes and thuds into the sightscreen.
Ball 4: SIX. Steps aside, gives himself room and once again hits the sightscreen, almost as if targeting the black board like an archer intent on hitting the bull’s-eye.
Ball 5: SIX. Pushpakumara switches to around the wicket but Pandya is intent on clearing the ropes over his head. Continues the fun.
*Record breached. Most runs in an over in Test cricket by an Indian*
Ball 6: DOT. Rare.
Soaking in the maiden hundred
Pandya's half-century had come off 61 balls but he raced to 83 in the next nine balls, with 26 off them coming in one over. The hundred was well within his sights but India were on their last leg, with Umesh needing to do the supporting act.
Next over, Pandya desperately tried to get Sandakan away, knowing that Umesh may not survive till he reached the magical landmark. But he couldn't quite get going, but retained the strike by nudging a single off the last ball.
Lahiru Kumara returned to pester him with the short ball but there was nothing stopping Pandya now. He gave it his all, and flat-batted a pull over the fine-leg boundary to collect his sixth six. He soon made it seven by sending Sandakan's flighted delivery way over cow corner in the next over to move to 97.
After Umesh survived Kumara's blistering yorkers in the first three balls of the next over and then relieved the Indian fans with a single off the fourth, the action shifted back to the man of the moment, Pandya.
Pandya wasted no time to breach the landmark, smacking Kumara through mid-on for four to reach his hundred. An arched back ramp for another boundary followed on the next ball. Three balls after a late lunch break, Sandakan collected a five-for by dismissing Pandya for 108.
The rockstar had by then broken quite a few records including the fastest hundred by an Indian batting at No 8 (off 86 balls).
If the comparisons to Ben Stokes were being spoken about in hushes till now, it would surely gather volume after this whirlwind knock. Pandya also added an icing to the cake by trapping Mathews in front for a duck to complete his best day in Test cricket till date. Given the manner he went about his business on Sunday, there will certainly be even better days in his Test career soon.