"Talented to bannev aj che, jovo have ek varas next IPL nu jaye to tame decide kari le so ke bannev talented che (We both are talented, let this next IPL finish; you will yourself decide that indeed both are talented)," Krunal Pandya to Firstpost in December 2015.
A couple of years ago, when his younger brother Hardik was already making waves, Krunal was an unknown name in the cricketing world. When I asked him which of the two brothers, Hardik or he, was more talented, he had given me an inkling of what lay in store for the future with the above answer.
Two years down the line, Krunal, who has become an integral part of the Mumbai Indians set-up, is standing on the podium holding the Man of the Match trophy after the final of IPL 10 having helped his side clinch their third IPL title. He describes it as a 'dream come true'.
There is an air of confidence in everything that Krunal does, just like his brother. Back in 2015, when he was recuperating from a serious shoulder injury, he was confident that he would be picked in the IPL. He had the confidence that he will show his worth on the big stage.
Two months later, he was bought by Mumbai Indians for a whopping Rs 2 crore in the auction — a pick that befuddled many. Around three months later he ended up as Mumbai's most consistent player with the second-best batting average (39.50), a staggering strike-rate of 191 — the highest among his teammates — and the best economy rate of 7.57 (for bowlers with more than five matches). Boom! He was suddenly into the limelight, just like Hardik.
But wait! The IPL has seen many one-season wonders. It's the second season that proves to be the real test. The real question was whether he can repeat the heroics the following season. In the meanwhile, there were reports that he was in the reckoning for the Zimbabwe tour last year, but it did not happen.
Not surprisingly, Mumbai Indians retained him for the 2017 season. It was a no-brainer. However, the biggest challenge for Krunal was to continue the momentum from the previous edition, especially after another injury-ridden domestic season. He warmed up to the IPL with decent performances in 2016/17 Vijay Hazare and Deodhar Trophy.
The Baroda all-rounder gained some much-needed rhythm and then ended up playing a crucial role in Mumbai Indians' title win, ending up with the second best batting average of 34.71 and the second best economy rate of 6.82 for Mumbai Indians.
There is a sense of calm that ensues every time Krunal strides out to bat. He exudes confidence and belief which breathes positivity on the field. The ability to adapt and adjust to different conditions adds to his versatility. And the one thing that has stood out over the last two seasons is his temperament. The ability to handle pressure makes him special. Last season, he was continuously shifted in the batting order but he adjusted and bailed Mumbai out of difficult situations.
It has only gotten better this season. Mumbai were in trouble when he arrived at the crease at 41/3 in the eighth over of the final against Rising Pune Supergiant. Amidst jangling nerves, where the other batsman looked more lost than a small child separated from his mother at a crowded theme park, Krunal (47 off 38 balls) batted with the maturity and assurance of a seasoned campaigner to guide Mumbai to some respectability with 129 from 79/7 in the 15th over.
The Mumbai bowlers held their nerve to clinch a thriller in the last over.
Kieron Pollard fairly summed up the magnanimity of Krunal's knock, "Well played to this young man," he pointed out towards Krunal in the post-match interview. "He batted nicely and kept us in the game," he added.
Krunal's comments gave an accounty of his maturity.
"When the wickets were falling, I wanted to play 20 overs because I was the only batsman (left)," Krunal said in the post-match presentation. "I knew if I stayed till the 19th or 20th over, I could attack. The pitch was gripping sometimes, and skidding at others. (I) Just wanted to make sure I'm there till the end and give the bowlers a chance," he added.
This wasn't the first time Krunal's composure was on show in this tournament, he had done it earlier against RCB in Bangalore with a sensible 30-ball 37 to provide crucial support to Pollard (70 off 47) after coming in at a dire situation of 33/5 to help Mumbai chase down 143.
He did it against Gujarat Lions in Rajkot with a 20-ball 29 to help Mumbai take the game into a super over when everything was falling apart.
He did it in the Qualifier 2 against Kolkata Knight Riders with a doughty 30-ball unbeaten 45-run knock, battling cramps after arriving at a tricky situation of 34/3 while chasing 108.
Krunal isn't as flamboyant as his brother, but over the last two years, he's started expressing himself more. "Dreamt in the morning, Devised in the afternoon, Geared up in the evening and Attained at night. Yes, that summed up my day!" Was his Instagram message laced with a picture of him letting out a loud roar after MI's win over KKR.
"He's got a good temperament," Krunal's coach Jitendra Singh told Firstpost in May last year. “He can take singles at will and find the gaps as well when needed," he had added.
Krunal is a thinking cricketer. Though he is not one of the biggest turners of the ball, he makes up for it by varying his pace and lengths cleverly. He has the ability to decipher a batsman's mind and control the game. The fact that he's got the number of AB de Villiers in all of their four meetings gives an account of the talent he possesses.
"He has got something about him," Mumbai skipper Rohit Sharma said of Krunal last season. "He knows his bowling really well and understands the conditions really well. It makes my job a lot easier as captain. He sets his own field. As a bowler if you can set your own field it shows a lot of confidence in your bowling.”
The Baroda all-rounder is one of the two all-rounders — the other being Moises Henriques — who have scored 250-plus runs and scalped 10-plus wickets in a winning cause since 2016 in IPL.
"Incredible season (for Krunal), he's chipped in with the ball when the team required him or when Rohit Sharma has handed him the ball," former Indian all-rounder Ajit Agarkar told ESPNCricinfo. "But that innings (in the final), he just showed the rest of the guys what was needed to be done on that pitch. And sort of exploded towards the end of the innings in the last two or three overs. Very, very responsible is the word, you can see the progress that he's made. Temperamentally he looks fantastic. Anything said about him will not be enough because he's probably been Mumbai's most important player this season," he added.
A complete package, Krunal's consistency has proved that he isn't just a one-season wonder. He has announced himself on the big stage, not once but twice. His astute mind, maturity, composure, athleticism and versatility shows he is ready to don the national colours, at least in the limited-overs.
Updated Date: May 22, 2017 08:04 AM