Champions Trophy 2017: Hardik Pandya's lively pace, ability to finish games make him vital for India
The lively pace with which Hardik bowls had given him the breakthrough into the Test squad and come the Champions Trophy, this quality of Hardik will solve captain Virat Kohli’s headache.
October 2016. India were playing New Zealand at the Feroz Shah Kotla in Delhi in the second match of the ODI series, having taken a 1-0 lead in Dharamsala a few days back .
The responsibility was once again upon Mahendra Singh Dhoni, as it had been for the past seven years, to steer India home in a run chase. Kedar Jadhav had just been sent back to the hut and Axar Patel joined his captain at the other end. Everyone was aware of Dhoni's methods, but how deep was he going to take this? 82 runs off 72 balls was an achievable target with five wickets left but one dismissal could bring New Zealand back into the game and as if on cue, Dhoni fell.
Within a space of few balls, Martin Guptill (yes, you read it right) took the opportunity to be among the wickets and got rid of Patel. The Kiwi, perhaps making up for his batting failure, struck one more time in the same over. With eight wickets down and 59 still to get, the chase didn’t seem on.
At the centre was the 23-year old youngster, Hardik Pandya, playing in his second ODI, trying to fill in for Dhoni, whose ability to strike lusty blows appeared to have faded. Supporting him was Umesh Yadav’s nervy defence. He couldn’t risk losing his partners and had to occupy the crease for as many balls as possible. Luckily for India, Umesh stuck around in the middle and soon the equation read 16 runs needed off 12 balls. A game that looked out of India’s control was now there to be won.
Hardik’s ODI career couldn’t have got a more ideal start. He was given the Man of the Match award on his debut for his bowling exploits and now another match-winning contribution was on the cards at the Feroz Shah Kotla. However, it was not a fairy tale ending. The 23-year old holed out to the sweeper cover fielder with India needing 11 off seven balls. It was a bit too much to expect Umesh and Jasprit Bumrah to close off the game and the wait for the next Dhoni, the finisher, continued.
April 2017. Mumbai Indians were playing Kolkata Knight Riders at the Wankhede. The required run rate for Mumbai Indians was 15 runs per over and Kieron Pollard, in the pursuit of a six, had just been caught at third man. The nonchalance with which Hardik sauntered out to the middle at the fall of Pollard's wicket was worth seeing. How was he so calm? Was he overconfident? We would find out in sometime. The second and fourth ball he faced were slashed and pulled away for a boundary and a six respectively. At the other end, moments after getting to his fifty, Nitish Rana perished with his side needing 19 off nine balls. The happenings at the other end, though, didn’t have any effect on the young Hardik as he heaved Ankit Rajpoot’s full toss, his fifth delivery, over the mid-wicket fence for a maximum.
KKR tossed the ball to Trent Boult, who had a task on his hands: defend 11 off the last over. But it looked very difficult to stop a player who had hit 50 percent off the balls he faced to the fence or over it. Mumbai emerged victorious with one ball to spare and Hardik ended up with an outrageous strike rate of 263.64. It was just a glimpse of what could be expected of him in the 2017 Indian Premier League (IPL). No, Hardik was not overconfident, he was just aware of his potential and focused on his job.
Hardik has certainly evolved as a batsman since his debut ODI series against New Zealand. From being dropped from the national side for a poor IPL season in 2016 to becoming the most feared finisher of the league was a testament to the fact that he had worked on his weaknesses and entered the tournament with confidence.
The conviction may have come because of his selection in the Test squad. Even though he failed to feature in the playing eleven, being a part of the Indian team that registered series wins against England and Australia must have boosted his confidence. He was also given the duty to captain the India A team that played the touring Australians in Mumbai.
The lively pace with which he bowls had given him the breakthrough into the Test squad and come the Champions Trophy, this quality of Hardik will solve captain Virat Kohli’s headache.
Given the nature of the wickets in England currently, Kohli will, in all likelihood, play only two of the four pacers in the squad along with the spin twins Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja. Hardik clocks 140 kph regularly and he will afford India a handy pace-bowling option and also assure them of a sound batsman at No 7 if things don’t go as planned, thereby rendering the side perfect balance. He also belongs to the new generation of Indian cricket which makes him an excellent and a reliable fielder.
Kohli recently talked about how the load of finishing games was falling solely on Dhoni and there was a necessity to reinforce the lower-middle order. That is where the emergence of Hardik and Kedar gave India a "beautiful balance", he added.
A genuine seaming all-rounder is what India has been looking for for years. A lot of players were given the chance to fill in that spot but hardly anyone seemed to have the skill to come good. It is Hardik’s opportunity now. His pace provided the kick start to his career but his emergence with the bat has given a different dimension altogether to his capabilities. He can not only finish the game but also build an innings if required as seen in the third ODI of the series against England in Kolkata earlier this year. Can he live up to the expectations? If you go by recent form, certainly yes.
Hopefully this time around, he will finish off games in Indian colours.
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