Alright, skip to the last over of the last night. Otherwise ebullient the entire night, the fans have now gone silent, there’s no time to groove, there’s no time to blink, or else they may risk losing out on the final moments of the game. On the third ball, Hardik Pandya goes hard, trying to pierce the ball to deep cover, but finds a man at the extra cover. It hasn’t been an easy night for the batters, and Pandya himself saw his mates struggling throughout the game.
Losing from a point where you need six off four balls is going to spark endless bouts of rage and fury. Pandya had already consumed one ball. He can’t afford another. The next ball was quick and short and around off-stump, which Pandya rocked back on the crease and whumped it violently over the long-on to finish off the game.
There’s no fist-pumping, no joyous sprint, no rush of emotions. Pandya walks in a very unassuming manner, the kind of walk you usually associate with a scene of a lower-order batter managing to avoid the follow-on for his team. Not with an all-rounder hitting a final over six to drive his team to a tense victory against their fiercest rival. Pandya surprised everybody, disappointing a large chunk of jingoistic followers who were looking for some aggressive, borderline demeaning celebration that they can recycle for the rest of the year on Twitter. Better luck next time!
But not only this act, but the whole of Pandya 2.0 is a surprise. A sense of maturity has replaced the brashness that surrounded his entire persona. Ahead of the Pakistan game, Pandya talked about playing down the hype and taking it as just another game, and he did the same. There was an aura of MS Dhoni around his finishing act, and his comments post-game too were eerily similar to the former Indian captain.
“I try to keep [my mindset] as clean as possible. I don’t try to put a lot of thought because I feel the bowler is much more under pressure than me. I don’t have anything to lose. I know it’s just one-six. It’s not an ego thing. Against spinners, I fancy my chances more than fast bowlers,” said Pandya about his finishing act.
If his childhood coach is to be believed, three things played an important role in this transformation. The first, of course, was that infamous Karan Johar episode where his ignorance and arrogance led to a temporary suspension. The marriage is the second, and losing his father is the third.
“He didn’t want to feel negative again after that television show, he realized all he wanted was a stable happy family after marriage, and the death of his father, who he was very close to, must have matured him to become an adult in many ways,” said the coach to Indian Express.
Four years ago he had to be stretchered off to the ground owing to an excruciating back injury, which cast huge doubt over his bowling abilities. While Pandya had shown his ability to play even as a pure batter in white-leg cricket, his inability to chip in with the ball would significantly impact his efficacy on the Indian side. He played T20I World Cup as a pure batter, but once India crashed out of the tournament, Pandya’s performance came under huge scrutiny.
The allegations were leveled against the team management for unnecessarily pampering Pandya when there’s no shortage of talent pool. The all-rounder himself pulled out his name from the bilateral series and worked with his coach Kiran More to overcome his bowling strength and weed out his shortcomings against short-pitched deliveries. Then came the Indian Premier
League where the viewers got the first glimpse of Pandya 2.0. He batted at No. 4, scored the most runs for his team, often chipped in with a few overs, and placed immense trust in others.
For the time Pandya was away from the national side, the Indian team tried a few other names, but none could assert authority like him. The frustrations over Pandya being given preferential treatment were soon followed by the haunting realization that India, for all its riches in talents, still doesn’t have another player of his caliber. Pandya’s performance from the last night is a timely reminder of that.
He utilized the short-bowling ploy to perfection, prising out three crucial wickets, the most notable being of Mohammad Rizwan. A fully-fit Pandya could well be the difference in the T20I World Cup this year. Moreover, his newfound love for going short will add a much-needed dimension to the Indian attack.
Lead Image: Hardik Pandya/Twitter