When the Gujarat Titans (GT) picked Hardik Pandya from the IPL 2022 draft for ₹15 crore, some apprehensions were raised by critics over the move. After all, he was not in great form over the last two seasons, while injuries also hampered his fitness.
In fact, after a prolonged slump, he was even axed from the national team following India’s disastrous T20 World Cup campaign in the UAE last year. That’s not all, the Mumbai Indians (MI), the franchise that he had been part of since his IPL debut in 2015, also decided not to retain him ahead of the mega auction. There were genuine reasons as Hardik’s performances with the bat were rather pedestrian and he hadn’t bowled as well.
The 28-year-old, however, has answered critics in style with some stellar performances in IPL 2022 so far, especially with the willow. In five matches, he has smashed 228 runs at an average of 76 and a strike rate of 136.53.
The return of Hardik Pandya
In the wake of his impressive showing in IPL 2022 so far, we look at three reasons why his return to form as an all-rounder spells good news for Indian cricket.
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#1 India need his services for the T20 World Cup
In the build-up to IPL 2022, former India coach Ravi Shastri had stated that a lot of eyes would be Hardik’s performance keeping the upcoming T20 World Cup in Australia in mind.
Team India have tried Venkatesh Iyer in the all-rounder’s role in the Baroda star's absence. And, to his credit, he has done a decent job. But it goes without saying that a fit and in-form Hardik would significantly strengthen the Indian squad.
The right-handed batter’s performance in IPL 2022 has been a massive plus for the Gujarat Titans in their debut season. He has been highly impressive as captain as well. But his return to his near-best is an equally significant development for Indian cricket as well.
Considering the kind of impact Hardik has already had on the tournament, it will be next to impossible for the selectors to ignore him when they pick the T20 World Cup squad for Australia.
#2 His bowling has been a massive plus
While his batting has been the more impressive aspect of his game in IPL 2022, it has been his bowling that has come out as the bigger plus. Given his quality as a player, Hardik was always expected to regain form as a batter sooner rather than later.
However, there have been serious question marks over his bowling following the back surgery that he underwent in 2019. He did not bowl at all in the 2020 and 2021 IPL editions. Even in Indian colors, he has only sent down a handful of overs in the last couple of years.
In the wake of the above, it has been heartening for Indian cricket to see the manner in which he has run in and bowled. The right-arm pacer has tweaked his action slightly, in an endeavor to reduce the strain on his back during his delivery stride.
Impressively, Hardik has been able to clock 140 kmph on a regular basis. He has only claimed four wickets so far, but has been incisive without a doubtt. These are still early days in the cricketer’s second coming as a bowler. But the early signs are positive.
#3 There has been a sense of maturity in his batting
Speaking of his batting, it has been sublime, without compromising too much on the aggression factor. Hardik’s USP as a batter is his big-hitting, so he should not change that under any circumstances. However, there have been instances in the past when he has been dismissed playing reckless strokes.
That is an aspect of his game that has not been visible at all in Hardik’s batting. The responsibility of the captaincy definitely seems to have had an affirmative influence on his batting, which has only made him all that more dangerous.
If anything, the 28-year-old went the other way round and was overcautious with the bat in the match against the Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH). He scored an unbeaten fifty, but was unusually slow and scored at a strike rate of under 120. The all-rounder, however, learnt his lessons very quickly and made amends in the very game, striking a scintillating 87* off 52 balls in GT’s 37-run win over the Rajasthan Royals (RR).
There is plenty to admire about Hardik Pandya 2.0. Hopefully, for Indian cricket, he will build on a solid platform and go on to achieve greater heights.