Hardik Pandya stepping into a new role
He’s been touted as the next big thing in Indian cricket and his last few performances have pretty much been a testament to that. Hardik Pandya has indeed been one of the top performers of the Indian cricket team this year. Impressive displays in the Champions Trophy, a good tour of Sri Lanka, and strong displays against the Aussies have only been highlights of what has been an excellent year thus far.
Indian Cricket has, for a good period of time, longed for a seam-bowling all-rounder. Hardik so far has been the epitome of everything that the Indian team have craved.
Pandya’s place and his importance to this side are as evident as they've ever been. A player who comes across with unflinching self-belief has seen only improvements in his performances. For someone who takes every challenge head-on, the Indian team might just have someone to take up the much-maligned number four slot in the batting order.
Promoted up the order during the ongoing series against Australia, Pandya guided India to the required score of 294 in the third ODI, getting an impressive 78 on the way. For someone who, by the media, has often been portrayed as a player only capable of wielding the long handle, Pandya has handled himself really well. Impressively, he did that again in the one-dayer at Bengaluru, playing his way to what was a good looking 41 before getting out trying to go big.
Batting at number four, he has displayed the maturity that not a lot of people might have expected of him. Although he might not yet be the final product the Indian team are looking for at the number four slot, his performances sure ignite his chances of remaining there for some time.
His direct competition for the spot comes from KL Rahul. While Rahul represents a more solid batting prospect, Pandya’s all-around skills hold him in good stead. Pandya, as a fifth bowler, has gotten better with time, and he looks to be slowly developing into the 10-over per match bowler Virat Kohli’s looking for.
Not just that, with Pandya in at four, the Indian team could possibly exercise the option of going in with an extra bowler. Given that the 2019 World Cup is in England, the option of playing either a Shami or an Umesh Yadav might not be too bad. A Shami-Bhuvi new ball pair with Bumrah as the first change could be a good combination.
The other option is to go in with someone like a Ravindra Jadeja at number seven, getting his handy batting and bowling skills into the game along with his reliable fielding. Spinning and dry conditions could call for a variety in the attack, meaning a possible place for Ravichandran Ashwin, who should provide some variety along with the likes of Jadeja/Axar, Kuldeep/Chahal.
The other option that Kohli and the management would consider is perhaps keeping things the way they are and retaining faith in the extra batsman. Meanwhile, the sixth bowler provides one with additional options in case one of the main bowlers has an off day. Something Kohli might not have with the extra batsman option, though Jadhav so far has been pretty useful as a bowler when called upon.
Options aplenty for the Indian side, but their materialization at this point in time depends on the development of Pandya the batsman. With the 2019 ICC World Cup still a good 20 months off, it’ll be interesting to see how the much-acclaimed and confident Hardik Pandya comes along. It’ll also be interesting to see how the Indian team shape up over these next two years, given they did play a Champions Trophy in England and had some good individual displays.