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Pant-Hardik partnership a heartwarming reincarnation of Yuvraj-Dhoni 2017 heroics

Hardik Pandya and Rishabh Pant stitched together a 99-run partnership for the 5th wicket
Hardik Pandya and Rishabh Pant stitched together a 99-run partnership for the 5th wicket
Sai Krishna
SENIOR ANALYST
Modified 29 Mar 2021
Feature

In January 2017, Yuvraj Singh made a return to the Indian ODI setup after being in the wilderness for over three years. Over the few years preceding that, he had been through it all - cancer, a subsequent T20 comeback, and an ill-fated knock in the 2014 T20 World Cup final.

But things weren't all that different for Yuvraj Singh. India's search for a reliable No. 4 batsman wasn't any closer to an end. But Yuvraj, even in his wildest dreams, couldn't have anticipated what was to follow.

Coming in at No. 4 after India lost KL Rahul and Virat Kohli with just 22 on the board, Yuvraj had to contend with the dismissal of Shikhar Dhawan soon after. However, the all-rounder stitched together a partnership for the ages with Dhoni.

India went from 25/3 to 281/3, before Yuvraj was finally dismissed for a career-best 150. He would play only 8 more innings for his country in the ODI format, but he proved that he was indomitable with that innings. Dhoni, on the other hand, gave his increasing list of critics a timely reminder of what he was capable of.

Since then, India have had very few match-saving partnerships like the one between Dhoni and Yuvraj. The top order has been in world-beating form, while the middle order has been shuffled around too much to develop into a formidable unit.

But in the 3rd and final ODI against England, the same opposition as the 2017 ODI, Indian fans were treated to a modern version of the Dhoni-Yuvraj partnership. Hardik Pandya and Rishabh Pant made less than half the runs Dhoni and Yuvraj did, but the resemblance was uncanny.


Pant-Hardik stand bore an eerie resemblance to the Dhoni-Yuvraj partnership

MS Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh turned back the clock in 2017
MS Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh turned back the clock in 2017

Let's get the obvious similarities out of the way.

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Rishabh Pant is the closest thing India have had to Yuvraj Singh. An explosive left-hander blessed with a wide range of strokes and immense power, Pant has a sharp downswing eerily similar to Yuvraj's. Audacious with his shot-making and boasting of entertainment value like no other, the 23-year-old is on the cusp of superstardom.

Hardik Pandya, on the other hand, is the lower-order batsman India have so desperately craved since MS Dhoni's retirement. The all-rounder is still at the crease and a scarily big hitter, and the fact that Dhoni hasn't really been missed by India exemplifies how great he has been in white-ball cricket.

But the real likeness only comes to the fore when you analyse the roles Pant and Hardik have to play in the Indian team when compared to Yuvraj and Dhoni's.

At No. 4 or No. 5, Pant is the man entrusted with injecting momentum into the innings. He has the license to go for his shots, take on the leg-spinners in particular, and give oppositions something to think about in the middle overs.

All those years ago, this was the exact same thing Yuvraj did. His high backlift, effortless hitting and fearlessness gave India a massive middle-overs bomb that, on its day, simply couldn't be contained.

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Meanwhile, Pandya - batting at No. 6 - is the finisher. Trusted to take his team over the line in difficult situations and plunder runs at the death, the 27-year-old has evolved into a magical batsman for India. Often playing vital cameos and saving his team after top-order collapses like Dhoni used to do, Pandya is one of the first names on the teamsheet.


Pant and Hardik set to write their own legacy in the Indian blue

India have backed Rishabh Pant, and boy has he delivered
India have backed Rishabh Pant, and boy has he delivered

While Pant and Pandya certainly have similarities to Yuvraj and Dhoni, they are unique in their own ways. They are expressive, and have the exuberance of youth that holds them in good stead even in pressure situations. They are part of a new breed of lion-hearted Indian cricketers who simply do not bow down.

The individuality of Pant and Hardik shouldn't be neglected by any means, but there's a certain sense of comfort that comes with knowing that they're following a well-trodden path of success.

Even the fact that they've evoked familiarity with two of the greatest cricketers India has ever seen shows that they're heading in the right direction. The fact that they have their own special traits on top of the rest simply sweetens the deal for fans of the Indian team.

Pant and Hardik are primed for long, glorious careers with the national team, and the 3rd ODI against England was one standout example of their grit and perseverance.

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Like Yuvraj in 2017, Pant was making a comeback to the Indian ODI setup. He was on the receiving end of unimaginable criticism, and he had to take the long route back to the national team. And Pandya, who's been embroiled in a few unwanted controversies, has been through a few lows with injury as well.

Cricket fans in India can sleep peacefully with the knowledge that two of the team's biggest stars have already faced adversity in their relatively short careers, since struggle is the biggest teacher on the path to greatness.


Published 29 Mar 2021, 13:01 IST
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