Hardik Pandya: India's ever improving talisman
Before the World Cup began, there was an air of excitement around Hardik Pandya. After all, he had just had an unbelievably good IPL season with the Mumbai Indians. While there have been quite a few big-hitters from foreign countries who have had a consistent IPL season in the past, perhaps no Indian displayed such prowess with the bat like Pandya.
The all-rounder from Baroda had shown that no matter what problems or hardships you suffer, there will always be a way to come back and come back stronger than ever. Pandya's problems were regarding his controversial episode on talk show Koffee with Karan along with KL Rahul, both of whom were suspended by BCCI. But when Pandya came back into the international fold, it seemed as if he hadn't missed a single game. This can be attributed to his immense hard work behind the scenes. He didn't just take the suspension as vacation and while away his time. This determination and commitment were on show in the IPL when he started to easily slaughter fast bowlers.
Just about everyone in Indian cricket knew his talent and hitting skills against spinners but he still had some issues against fast-bowlers and hard lengths. This is why he didn't have a great season with the bat in the previous IPL season. Like any other new kid on the block, teams and bowlers were going to study and devise ways of exploiting weaknesses. Pandya as a player who was hurting from his suspension redirected his disappointment to improving himself. Now he isn't just a slogger who with the tendency to be hit and miss. In spite of being a wiry lad, Pandya can hit it big and long against the world's best and quickest bowlers. All this while maintaining a good base and shape. The 25-year old has also shown the ability to adapt and bide his time when his team is in trouble.
One could say that such a player is already like gold dust for most teams. But, Pandya also seems to have worked his socks off for improving what was seen as his weaker suit. Yes, Pandya's bowling was seen as a real weakness for the Indian team. He tended to get carried away with bouncers. In the beginning, back of a length and bouncers were his natural lengths but redundancy of those were always going to result in runs being leaked. This was what experts and fans alike were worried about, concerning his bowling. Can he give 10 overs in each match without being expensive? Or will his erratic nature force India to play another bowler/all-rounder? These questions were looming large as Pandya was the guy who was supposed to be the glue, the guy who was supposed to provide balance to the team.
India's first match against South Africa only reinforced this problem. On a tricky wicket, Pandya could neither pick wickets nor control the runs. Although the next match was played on a flat track against Australia, he was still unconvincing. However, the fourth match against Pakistan was when some positive signs were noticed in his bowling. Pakistan crumbled under the pressure of chasing 337 but Pandya still needed to do his job. Those two wickets that he took against Pakistan can be possibly termed a tad bit fortuitous but the overall was an early sign of good things to come in the latter half of the tournament.
The good signs were seen in a considerable measure during his spells against England and Bangladesh as he read the pitch beautifully. The Edgbaston track was on the slower side and Pandya started to mix-up his deliveries instead of banging it short every time. In fact, because of his well-disguised slower deliveries, the bouncers became even more effective. It also helps that unlike some of the previous dibbly-dobbly all-rounders who played for India, Pandya is someone who can really crank the pace to 140 kph and above. This made Pandya's bowling a guessing game rather than a one-dimensional one.
Pandya's gradual improvement with his bowling isn't restricted to a good ten-over spell. There is an ancillary advantage considering that India won't be needing a 6th bowling option. There have been a lot of disagreements about which five will make up India's bowling combination. But, one shouldn remember that it is Pandya who has given this luxury to even ponder about such a move. India would be delighted with his conundrum given that there is a chance to play an extra batsman to act as a cushion for an under the weather middle-order.
From going from a weaklink to one of the better bowlers for India in this World Cup, Pandya can be best described as ever-improving. It is like the famous quote that goes, 'At no point do you know everything. The moment you think like that, that moment will be the start of a downslide/end. There is always something to learn'. As long as Pandya keeps learning, both himself and India will reap rich dividends for a long time to come.
Also read – World cup all time records