India needed 6 off 4 when Hardik Pandya made room and drove Mohammad Nawaz vigorously, only to find extra cover. In his mind he’d envisaged the ball threading the infield, in reality it turned out to be a distressful dot. 6 off 3, against archfoe Pakistan, on a track that wasn’t a batter’s ally. Men of lesser resolve would have been at panic stations by now, but Hardik had ice running through his veins. A cocksure wobble of the head ensued, a gesture to Dinesh Karthik that said ‘Don’t worry, I’ve got this’.
The pristine self-belief stemmed from his recent exploits. Having marshalled Gujarat Titans to the title in their inaugural IPL season, Hardik picked up a career-best 4/24 and milked 71 to orchestrate India’s series-seizing win at Old Trafford. Leading a young and inexperienced team, he lifted his maiden T20I series 2-0 as captain, in Ireland. Hardik was riding a wave of confidence and it showed in the emphatic manner with which he tonked the next ball from Nawaz over long-on.
”We only needed 7 off the last over but even if we needed 15, I’d have fancied myself. I know the bowler is under more pressure than me in the 20th over. I try to keep things simple,” Hardik proclaimed after taking India home in the Asia Cup opener with an uber-cool 17-ball 33*.
India were fancying their chances after bowling Pakistan out for 147, but the picture wasn’t as rosy any more when Hardik joined Ravindra Jadeja in the middle. Suryakumar Yadav had just had his stumps torpedoed by Naseem Shah, who struck with his second delivery in T20I cricket to have the undercooked KL Rahul chopping on. At 89/4 in the 14th over, the blockbuster was hanging in the balance.
Hardik shuffled across and played a couple of neat glances to get his innings underway. When Naseem erred on the shorter side, he pounced on the width like a grizzly bear pounces on salmon. Apart from Hardik, only Babar Azam had timed the ball from the word go across both camps, as the lateral movement left Mohammad Rizwan with an undesirable run-a-ball 43 and the extra bounce saw each of the first five Pakistan batters fall victim to short balls, three of which were banged in accurately by Hardik.
”In bowling, it’s important to assess the situations and use your weapons. For me, bowling short and the hard lengths have been my strengths. It’s about using them well and asking the right questions to make the batters commit a mistake,” the all-rounder reflected on his bumper salvo.
While Hardik had kept his shots along the ground so far, Jadeja didn’t shy away from taking the aerial route. Being a southpaw he was promoted to No.4 to attack left-armer Nawaz and he wasted little time in fulfilling his duty, stepping out to hit a 98m monster over the sightscreen. He went downtown again versus Naseem, who was not bowling at full tilt towards the fag end of the innings due to cramps. The handsome loft dwarfed the equation to 21 off 13, and Hardik’s consecutive boundaries in the penultimate over were a soothing balm for the jangling nerves in the Indian dugout.
Rohit has watched Hardik from close quarters given their time together at Mumbai Indians, and, of course, the national set-up. The all-rounder’s journey has been replete with crests and troughs, and he’s come out of the learning experience as a calm, mature and responsible individual who is making optimal use of the gifts given to him by the cricketing gods.
”Since the time Hardik has made his comeback, he’s been brilliant,” Rohit said at the presentation ceremony. ”When he was not part of the team, he figured what he needs to do to his body and his fitness regime, and now he is clocking 140+ 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. He can bowl really quick, we saw that today with those short balls. It was always about just understanding his game and he’s doing that well now. In a high-pressure chase with 10 rpo needed, you can panic but he never showed any of that,” Rohit added.
A fit and firing Hardik Pandya affects games of cricket. He bowled his full quota tonight despite being the fourth seamer and came to India’s rescue when they faced the daunting proposition of scoring 59 off 34 balls. To have such a multi-skilled, in-form contributor in the ranks is an unparalleled luxury, and Rohit couldn’t have asked for more with the T20 World Cup approaching near.