They say everything and everyone can be replaced in one way or another, but that doesn’t really stand true for Hardik Pandya. It would be almost impossible for India to compete in the ongoing T20 World Cup without their ace pace-bowling all-rounder. The 29-year-old is the glue that holds this team together.
The current Indian T20I side is built around three players - Pandya, Suryakumar Yadav and Jasprit Bumrah. The latter is injured, but India have someone like Arshdeep Singh who could play a similar role. If something happens to Suryakumar, they could always bring in Sanju Samson. Of course, there would be a difference in the quality, but it won’t be as big as Pandya and his possible replacement.
He is India’s biggest asset at the moment. This man could bat anywhere in the middle order, bowl those hard-length deliveries on the Australian surfaces, and is a gun fielder. Pandya is a rare breed, especially in India. The moment he is not available, India start searching for “the right combination” and, more often than not, fail to find the right answer. To be honest, India are not a genuine title contender without Pandya.
The team management have tried the likes of Vijay Shankar, Shivam Dube and Venkatesh Iyer, but none of them could come close to the standards set by Pandya. India are so desperate to find a backup for Pandya that they have already fast-tracked 19-year-old Chandigarh all-rounder Raj Angad Bawa into the India A set-up. And that tells you how important Pandya is to India’s cause.
Alright, let’s go back a bit. The year 2021 wasn’t really kind to Pandya. The all-rounder constantly struggled with his fitness and had a terrible Indian Premier League 2021, scoring only 127 runs in 11 innings at an average of 14.11 and a strike rate of 113.39. On top of that, he didn’t bowl a single delivery in the entire competition.
The 2021 T20 World Cup in UAE was no different either, with him bowling only four overs in the showpiece event. In fact, since the end of IPL 2021 to the beginning of IPL 2022, Pandya only delivered six overs and also struggled with the bat. Nothing was going in his favour, but then came that big switch from Mumbai Indians to Gujarat Titans, and that changed everything.
An IPL season that changed everything
It became impossible to talk about Mumbai Indians without mentioning Pandya. He made his IPL debut in 2015 and soon became an indispensable part of Mumbai, winning four titles with the franchise. Pandya became the heart and soul of the MI setup, and it looked like this relationship would never end, but it did. It had to, especially for the betterment of Pandya. Mumbai couldn’t retain him, and the new franchise, Gujarat, managed to get hold of him before the mega auction. And even made him the captain.
However, the cricket fraternity wasn’t really sure how someone as exuberant and aggressive as Pandya would fare with such a bigger responsibility on his shoulders, but he surprised everyone by winning the IPL title in his very first year as skipper. The all-rounder led from the front and made the most of whatever limited resources Gujarat had in their arsenal. On paper, the Titans never looked like a top contender, but on the field, they played like one throughout the tournament.
In IPL 2022, Pandya smashed 487 runs, the most he has scored in an IPL season, and he did that at an average of 44.47 (his second-best in an IPL season) and a strike rate of 131.3. What’s more, the right-arm paceman also claimed eight wickets in 10 innings at an economy rate of 7.27. And three of those wickets came in the grand finale. Pandya got the big wickets of Jos Buttler, Sanju Samson and Shimron Hetmyer and broke the back of Rajasthan Royals’ batting line-up.
Whenever his team needed him, Pandya was out there in the middle and, more often than not, did what was required of him. And it all started from the very first game. Gujarat couldn’t get a proper No. 4 batter in the auction, and that’s when Pandya put his hand up and took that role. In his seven seasons with MI, he batted only 12 out of his 85 innings at four or above. However, he didn’t run away from the challenge and proved his worth as a pure batter once again. He scored the second-most runs in the middle overs and constantly set the platform for the likes of David Miller, Rahul Tewatia and Rashid Khan.
The focus in his eyes was pretty evident. The moment his first goal was achieved, Pandya knew what he wanted next. “Long term, short term, I want to win the World Cup no matter what happens. I am going to give it everything I have. Always been that kind of guy, to put the team first.” These three lines are enough to convince anyone why you need a Hardik Pandya on your team.
Flamboyant, yet so calm!
This new version of Pandya just seems more assuring. He knows what he is doing and what needs to be done in order to get that ‘W’ for his team. Mind you, that trademark swag is still there, but there is now a certain amount of calmness about his flamboyance. No matter what the situation is, Pandya never looks fazed and has this immense confidence in his abilities. It’s evident that Pandya understands his game more than ever before, and that would serve India well in the World Cup.
At the start of IPL 2022, all Indian fans wanted was to see him bowl, but hardly anyone would have expected him to win the title and then go on to lead India (two T20Is in Ireland in June), all in the space of just three months. In T20Is since the end of IPL 2022, Pandya has smashed 436 runs in 18 innings at an average of 36.33 and a strike rate of 151.4. He has also bowled 46 overs in this period, picking up 12 wickets at a strike rate of 23.
He might have been successful at No. 4 for his franchise, but Pandya is back finishing games for India. Amongst batters from the top-10 ranked T20I teams, only Dasun Shanaka (258 at an average of 36.86 and a strike rate of 189.7) has scored more runs than Pandya (237 at an average of 47.4 and a strike rate of 185.2) in death overs this year. What makes him even more dangerous is the way he builds his innings. The right-hander operates at a strike rate of 124.53 in his first 10 deliveries, which goes up to 189.16 in the next 10 balls.
In 10 of his 18 innings since 2022, Pandya has scored at a strike rate of more than 144. From that 51 off 33 against England in Southampton to that 71* off 30 against Australia in Mohali, Pandya has been in astonishing form. And who could forget his nonchalant nod to Dinesh Karthik when India needed six off three deliveries against Pakistan in the Asia Cup? It was like, "don't worry, I have got it under control", and Pandya smoked the very next delivery for a six over long-on. That one nod was enough to tell anyone what kind of mental space Pandya is in at the moment.
If 2021 was a year to forget for Pandya, 2022 has been extremely pleasant, and another trophy would make this year even more memorable for India’s ‘Mr. Do-It-All’.