India had lost their last nine ODI matches after being three down inside the Powerplay when chasing, dating back to 2011. In a stew at 72/4 in the series decider at Old Trafford, it felt as if they were destined to meet a similar fate. The target of 260 seemed a country mile away, and the ignominy of falling short twice in a row awaited the visitors despite keeping England to underwhelming totals. Not only was the series on the line but also the reputation of a few senior players, none more so than Virat Kohli who'd gone 78 international innings without a century across formats. A team victory somehow papers over individual failings to an extent, but a humiliating defeat at this point would've simply yanked open the floodgates of criticism.
It was at such a delicate juncture in the game that Hardik Pandya walked out to the middle, his blazing orange collar upturned. The colour symbolizes enthusiasm, fortitude, determination and balance, and these were precisely the values Hardik brought to the Indian chase. Be it his dabs to third man to get off-strike, the solid backfoot punches to milk ones off the spinners or the way he rolled his wrists to hammer the pulls along the turf, clarity of thought and a sense of purpose defined everything Hardik did to wrest back the advantage from England.
He shadow practised his shots and gave himself pep talks after reaching the other end. He made loud calls of 'no' and 'wait' to keep an eager-beaver Rishabh Pant in check, but would thud his bat into the ground in disappointment when they missed out on a brace with Pant not running the first one hard enough. Hardik was a man on a mission, undertaking a repair job that tedious without letting go of his cheerful demeanour, best exemplified by the thumbs up he gave Craig Overton on being beaten by a short of length cross-seamer.
Manchester has invariably dished out sporting wickets and the pitch for Sunday's spectacle was no different. The grass had been shaved off to give England the best chance of putting up a good show with the bat following a couple of lousy outings. As a direct consequence, the average seam movement in the PowerPlay had dropped to 0.56°, the lowest among all venues in this series. Bowling short, heavy lengths had worked like a charm for Hardik himself as he registered a career-best 4/24, his bouncer salvo ensuring it was the only instance since the 2015 World Cup that England were unable to score 300+ in a home ODI series when they batted first at least once.
''I had to bend my back a bit. I had to change my plans – realised that this was not the wicket to go full – and go for the short-ball, use it as a wicket-taking delivery,'' he said in the innings break. Although when given a taste of his own medicine, Hardik controlled the pull with the dexterity of a knitter. It was a masterclass in executing the shot as he rode the bounce on each occasion, save for the opening boundary when he helped the bumper on its way and Overton misjudged the catch at fine leg.
Reece Topley must not have envisaged the treatment Hardik subjected him to in his second spell, especially after he'd drawn a tame chip from Shikhar Dhawan and sent Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli packing with his away-anglers. Hardik greeted the wrecker-in-chief with a graceful on-drive. A punch beat the sweeper for its sheer timing while a brute of a lofted drive had Pant ducking for cover. Hardik became only the second player to achieve the double of 50+ runs and 4+ wickets in a match across formats after Mohammad Hafeez. He now boasts of four 50s in ten ODI innings since the start of the Australia tour in 2020, having scored just four 50s in his 38 ODI innings prior to that assignment.
The subdued celebration, however, told you he was adamant to get India over the line and not enthused by petty milestones. Hardik sports that too-cool-for-school attitude in general, but the key wicket of Ben Stokes earlier in the day had him jumping with joy, for a change. It was his double strike in the 37th over that confined England to a below-par total as the presence of a set Jos Buttler and Liam Livingstone could've spelt trouble for India in the final ten. He picked up 8 wickets with short balls in the England T20Is and ODIs combined, with his figures in Manchester including three maidens.
During their 133-run partnership, Hardik was a sounding board to Pant, offering his partner valuable advice on how to tackle certain bowlers and their gameplans. It is rarely the case that Pant plays second fiddle in an alliance – he was batting on 45 off 66 balls when Hardik raised his fifty off 43 deliveries – but the southpaw went berserk after Hardik was dismissed on 71, having ushered India towards their fourth ODI series win in England. Pant marauded five consecutive boundaries off David Willey after bringing up his maiden ODI century, and Rohit Sharma was all praises for the dependable duo.
"These guys haven't batted for a long time in the middle overs, today we got to see that as well especially from Hardik and Rishabh," Rohit said at the presentation. "I am quite pleased with both of them. They were quite clinical with the bat. At no given point of time they were panicking and trying to do something different. They just kept backing themselves and played cricketing shots all the way through."