Ask any cricket fan who could be India's three most important players at the World Cup and you would hear a chorus of Virat Kohli, MS Dhoni, and Rohit Sharma/Jasprit Bumrah being sung in unison. Everyone will agree that the aforementioned players need to be at the top of their game if India are to lift the World Cup.
But, the meteoric rise of Hardik Pandya needs to be factored in as he looks primed to play an important role in the current Indian setup. The lanky all-rounder's performances could have a huge bearing on India's fortunes in England.
Hardik appears to be the all-rounder India have always looked out for but seldom had. However, over the past couple of years, Hardik has gradually added a mean streak to his game. He spells mayhem for the opposition with his destructive batting while his seam bowling is underrated. In the recently concluded IPL, he took his beloved Mumbai Indians to targets they seldom looked like achieving. When the ball is in his arc, he will smoke it to all parts of the ground.
An innings that immediately springs to mind is an ODI between India and Australia in Chennai in 2017. India had lost early wickets as they batted first and it was left to MS Dhoni and Hardik to steady the ship and post a respectable total. Pandya played a brilliant inning alongside MSD, taking India to a decent target which they were able to defend in a rain-affected game.
Pandya has also proved that he can play the waiting game if required and unleash hell on the opposition at the death. He could play a major role in being India's 3rd or 4th seamer, as traditionally the English conditions should suit his style of bowling. The flat nature of the pitches in the recently concluded series between England and Pakistan could also suit his power hitting to the tee.
The lanky all-rounder's fielding is also a huge plus. With MSD needing time to settle in before he goes about dealing with the situation at hand, Pandya's role becomes even more crucial. Will he be able to provide enough breathing room for Mahi and co. by getting on with matters at hand right-away?
If he ticks this box, the Men in Blue could be in with a huge shout to add another World Cup to their cabinet.