It’s perhaps prudent to point out how not long ago the great Kapil Dev had questioned if Hardik Pandya could at all be called an allrounder if he wasn’t bowling. “He is an extremely important batter. For bowling, he has to play a lot more matches, perform and bowl and then we will say,” he had said. Dev’s logic was unquestionable at that time, considering Pandya had just come off the 2021 T20 World Cup playing as a specialist batter in the defeat to Pakistan and bowling just four overs throughout the tournament.
How about now?
Let’s get the facts straight though. Pandya can probably never be a proper Test allrounder. His one-day bandwidth too remains to be tested. But in the here and now, while we are thriving in the thrills and uncertainties of Twenty20, let’s remember this performance for what it is—a return of form for Hardik Pandya. With 3/25 and a 17-ball 33*, Pandya has finally lived up to the anticipation and expectation saddling the utopian allrounder who will bowl, bat and field but not complain of injury or fatigue.
Perceptions too weren’t kind to him at a time Ben Stokes—the only contemporary fast-bowling allrounder—was feted for taking a mental break from the IPL before finally giving up on the one-day format. The decision, however, was a difficult one for Pandya to make. Not only was he expected to bowl and bat for India, but his responsibilities were also set to grow in 2022 when Gujarat Titans announced his appointment as captain. Nobody knew how Pandya—battling persistent lower back trouble since 2018—was shaping up till then though.
“It has never been the case that I wouldn’t want to show what I have, but it is about being in a peaceful place and performing,” Pandya said after the toss on Sunday. “It is never about proving a point. I have been in and out of the team, but to see the respect and value they have given me is incredible.”
But when he did emerge in the IPL, Pandya couldn’t have looked more assured. He batted at No 4, bowled his heart out and led from the front. This was the Hardik Pandya you wanted to see.
Sunday presented to him a similar yet different scenario purely because of the enormity of the match. Pakistan controlling the narrative, Pandya came to bat at No 6 with India needing 59 from 34, a juncture where the chase could have easily been lost.
“Till the time Hardik scored, the match was 50-50,” Bhuvneshwar Kumar said after Sunday’s win.
Numbers will tell you Pandya hit four boundaries and that solitary winning six in 17 balls, four of those hits coming in the space of six balls across the 19th and 20th overs. The rest were ones and twos though. It tells you of a person in complete control of his nerves, and hence a nerve-wracking chase.
“In batting, over the years, I have understood (that) the calmer I can stay, it’s going to help me execute all the plans,” Pandya said after the match. “Those executions, the 50-50 chances that I take, if I am calmer, it helps me to pull it off. Chases like this, you always plan overs. For me, it started from the 15th over.”
The shot Pandya is referring to—one that really encapsulated his temperament—was a back-foot slap three balls into his innings. It was a short delivery from Naseem Shah, with not so much width, but Pandya masterfully rode the bounce and jabbed it behind point for a boundary.
In bowling too, Pandya’s conviction showed in his three wicket-taking deliveries—all short, all over 140 kph. He was not always bending his back but when he did, Pandya wasn’t holding back. Bouncers were the order of the day but Pandya wasn’t conspicuous about it.
“In bowling, my plans were pretty simple,” said Pandya. “I always tell the same thing. It’s just how I use it. I tell that it’s important to kind of assess the situation and conditions, and use your weapon which I feel, you know, hard lengths and hitting the length is my strength. But I make sure I use it very wisely, put some doubt in the batter and ask them to play the wrong shot.”
This game, and the last few months, have given us a peek into what Pandya can achieve as long as he isn’t judged by the impossible standards of the allrounder he has been implored to be. He is bowling, batting and winning games. Can a captain expect anything more, really? Rohit Sharma doesn’t think so.
“Since the time he (Hardik) has made his comeback, he’s been brilliant,” said Sharma at the presentation ceremony. “When he was not part of the team, he figured out what he needed to do to his body and his fitness regime, and now he is clocking 140-plus easily. His batting quality we all know and it’s been brilliant since his comeback. He is a lot calmer now and more confident about what he wants to do, whether it’s with the bat or with the ball. It was always about just understanding his game and he’s doing that well now. In a high-pressure chase with 10 runs per over needed, you can panic but he never showed any of that.”