World Cup 2019: Why Hardik Pandya is India's most valuable player
With less than a week to go for the Cricket World Cup to kick off, teams are in the final stage of their preparations and have almost settled on what their playing XI's would look like. India go into the competition as the favorites along with hosts England. Two-time champions India possess arguably the best batsman and best bowler in the format among their ranks in the form of Virat Kohli and Jasprit Burmah.
However, a case could be made for neither of them being India's most important player going to England. A very strong contender for that tag is the flamboyant Hardik Pandya, whose contribution will be vital if India are to emerge victorious on 14th July at the iconic Lords stadium.
There are a number of factors in play that make Pandya one of the most vital cogs of the Indian team.
Firstly, he occupies the all-important number seven position in the batting unit. More often than not, he's likely to arrive at the crease with very few overs left to bat. The team management will expect the 25-year-old to get going on from the start and give the team a good finish. If Pandya succeeds in doing so, he could potentially make a big difference in the final score India end up with.
If his performances for Mumbai Indians in the Indian Premier League this season are anything to go by, his quick-fire knocks in the end could ensure the team has a few more runs on the board than what they were headed for. While chasing, having Pandya in among their ranks will give the dressing room more confidence to chase down even the most daunting asking rates.
Secondly, he is the only batsman in the team capable of scoring at his will. As Rishabh Pant has failed to find a spot in the squad, there is no other Indian batsman who can start thrashing boundaries from the word go barring the explosive Pandya. The team management could would also have the option of promoting him up the order to increase the scoring rate in the middle overs.
The 25-year-old's strike rate of 116.58 in the format reflects these qualities on English pitches, where scores of 300+ have become the norm. Pandya's free-scoring ability is an ace up India's sleeve and is going to be extremely important to Virat Kohli's men and their aspirations of lifting the trophy.
On the other hand, his bowling going to be important for India's bowling attack. Their bowling strengths are well-documented as India's four front-line bowlers constitute one of the best line-ups in the tournament. Pandya will be India's fifth bowler and the team management could require him to complete his quota of ten overs on most occasions. If the all-rounder can bowl at a reasonable economy rate and pick a few wickets in the process, it will ease the pressure on Virat Kohli to a large extent. Otherwise, India might find themselves struggling t contain rapid onslaughts. His athleticism needs no introduction as Pandya is one of India's most reliable men in the field.
Furthermore, Pandya is one of the few Indian players who comes into the World Cup in blisteringly good form. While some Indian players struggled in the IPL; but that was not the case with him. In Mumbai Indians' victorious season, Pandya scored 402 runs at a phenomenal strike rate of 191.42. He also notched 14 wickets, albeit at a rather expensive economy of 9.17. With him being at the top of his game, one could expect him to take this rich vein of confidence into the World Cup and deliver the goods.
Ultimately, his all-round skills give India a lot of balance and quality. Not only does India's batting get more depth and firepower with Pandya's presence but it also allows India to play both the wrist-spinners Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal, two more crucial options for India's bowling attack.
Over the course of his career, there have been doubts raised on whether Pandya is good enough for this level. Only a few months ago, he found himself in the news for all the wrong reasons. Despite the setbacks, Pandya has continued to work on his his game and improved significantly since his debut in 2016. Now he goes into the World Cup as arguably India's most valuable player and has a chance to prove every doubter wrong by helping India win the biggest tournament in the sport.
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