Hardik Pandya- a necessary evil in the Indian Cricket team
From the bylanes of Baroda to giving the Indian cricket team the balance it desires, the story of Hardik Pandya has quite been a revelation. So much so that a when he was handed a suspension due to his comments on a chat show last month, nobody missed Pandya more than the Indian cricket team. It was quite clear that India wanted the seam bowling all-rounder back in their ranks desperately when they recalled him midway during the recently concluded India-New Zealand series. He displayed the difference he makes to the side immediately in his first game of the tour by pulling off a brilliant catch off Chahal’s bowling to dismiss the Kiwi skipper Kane Williamson and changing the match into India’s favor.
Hardik Pandya's absence affected the team balance as India had to rely on Ravindra Jadeja to fill in the gap of an all-rounder in the side. This forced India to go away from their core strength of playing the wrist spin duo of Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal in the same playing XI. Jadeja has often faced criticized for being a defensive bowler in limited overs cricket. Due to his sharp napping accuracy, he bowls at a faster pace thereby not tossing the ball in the air quite often. As a result, the batsmen are not tempted to take the meat out of the ball and they hardly commit a mistake. He has fallen into the category of bowlers who are economical but not wicket-taking.
One of the crucial reasons why India has dominated in limited overs off late is because of their ability to take wickets in the middle overs. A big reason behind this is the presence of the two wrist spinners in the team. As a bowling pair, they have managed to cause heavy collapses in the opposition batting order by managing to break partnerships at key moments during the game. Hence, playing Hardik Pandya in playing XI is crucial as it allows both the wrist spinners to feature and bowl in tandem
Over the past few months, the equation has become very clear. When Pandya plays, both the wrist spinners play. When he doesn’t, one of them has to sit out because of their limited batting abilities which disrupts the team composition. Pandya's importance is also proved by the fact that without him, India’s tail looks a bit too long. This creates additional pressure on the top 3 and brittle middle order.
A lot of top international cricket teams are stressing on the importance of having a good no 6, 7 & 8 who can be power-hitters in the slog overs and double it up with good bowling performances. Pandya has the unique ability to consistently hit sixes at ease with exquisite flair, timing, and power.
Even as a bowler, the 25-year old has also grown in leaps and bounds since his debut. Due to improved fitness levels, he has added a few more yards of pace to his bowling. He has also introduced new variations like the effective short ball, the slower ball, slower bouncer and a near-perfect yorker in his armory. Depending on the pitch and the conditions, Pandya is playing the role of the third seamer and the fifth bowler regularly for the team. Not to forget, he is one of the best fielders in the team.
Thus the all-around cricketing package of Hardik Pandya is too hard to ignore and his absence hurts India the most alongside Virat Kohli. He is playing the role of a finisher to perfection and has bailed the team out of danger with his cameos and aggressive stroke play quite often.
The plan is all set for Team India with the pace bowling partnership of Bhuvneshwar and Jasprit Bumrah set to cause damage in the power play. The wrist spin duo will carry forward the momentum in the middle overs before the pacers return in the death to clean up the tail. In between all of this, Pandya will have the responsibility to keep the opposition in check and ensure they have no easy runs on offer.
Hardik Pandya, therefore, is the golden wrench in the Indian cricket team. It will be very interesting to observe his evolution and how he copes with the pressure of the World Cup after the distraction from off-field controversies.