South Africa vs India 2018: Gladiator Hardik Pandya has arrived and how
Saturday's play at Cape Town may have just witnessed the evolution of a special career.
Hardik Pandya sits in the dressing room and watches as the South African pace battery demolish the Indian top order. The Newlands pitch has been far from easy to bat on. Was it the bounce? Was it the pace of the bowlers? Or maybe it was the poor shot selection of the Indian batsmen. Not many an expert could have put a finger on it. Least of all the 24-year old lad with just a handful of Test matches under his belt.
Pandya watched as Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander, Kagiso Rabada and Morne Morkel ripped apart the top order. He has his pads on and a mighty piece of willow between his legs. The Indian batsmen had been blocking all morning of the second day’s play. The tactic was quite clear, at least in the first session. Cheteshwar Pujara and Rohit Sharma had one job on their hands. Survive, if they could manage it of course.
For Pujara, it was an extension of his natural approach to batting. He has always been known to be an accumulator and as one who puts the heavy price of ‘frustration’ on his wicket. The game was a tad different as far as Rohit was concerned. He had been called out by a number of senior commentators in the past regarding his temperament. His Test cricketing status has been a far cry from his One-Day exploits.
The duo were under the watchful gaze of Ravi Shastri. The head coach had instructed Pandya to don the pads, expecting Rohit in the dressing sheds sooner or later. The Mumbaikar had indeed obliged with gratitude. Whilst flicking his hair, the golden portion waiting for a wicket to fall, Pandya watches as the dying embers of Rohit’s innings came to an end.
Skipper Virat Kohli has a word to him about the bounce on the wicket. That is perhaps the least of his concerns. He knows one way of batting - aggression. It is the name of his game. Having come up the ladder the hard way, he is not going to be bogged down by the Proteas. He is a gladiator and that’s why he is in the team. Attack the opposition or perish like the others.
He takes a cue from his South African counterparts. The way of the Newlands wicket is to play your shots and hope that you do not get yourself out. It had worked. Worked so well that the Proteas had scampered to an impressive 286 in the first innings. AB de Villiers and Quinton de Kock had exhibited such excellence while batting earlier in the match.
Whether these thoughts would have run past Pandya’s mind or not remains a mystery. He would play the same way he has played across all formats in his fledgling career thus far. The first delivery after lunch and Pujara is on his way back to the dressing room.
With that, India’s last recognized batsman strolls out. Pandya has a rockstar demeanour and a bit of a swagger. Overconfidence, some say. He’s a young player and has no baggage. He is out to prove himself. His side is in a spot of bother. His innings begins with a few half-chances for Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel. He looks unsettled and continues blocking the first few deliveries.
An edge and a tentative hoick towards mid-wicket secures him two boundaries. And he is on his way. He takes the cue left by de Villiers as well as de Kock and plays his shots. His captain in the haven of the dressing room allows himself a smile. It would be an over or two later when he begins to cut loose. Off drives, on drives, through the covers, over the top, through point. Pandya simply does not seem to hold back.
Faf du Plessis senses he needs a change in plan. Keshav Maharaj comes into the attack. But even that does not seem to stop him. The left-arm spinner only increases his confidence. With Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Pandya has now stitched a vital partnership. Yet, he will not stop. He wants the century. Perhaps, it is something about scoring centuries that gets him going.
Seven runs adrift, and he is deprived. Not for the first time as it would seem. The crowd goes wild. But, it has saved the Indians from their blushes. He is now the beneficiary of a standing ovation from the crowd. The all-rounder eventually concludes the day as the visitors' hero by picking up a couple of South African wickets as well.
Pandya walks off the park at the end of a long day - the same gladiator as he has been since his entry into the Indian team.