Dhoni is my life coach and brother: Hardik Pandya

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safari
18 Oct 2021 | 06:30 AM
authorcricket.com staff

Dhoni is my life coach and brother: Hardik Pandya

The allrounder also talks about the T20 World Cup, the many challenges of his life, his acceptance of the not-so-perfect self, and more

Indian allrounder Hardik Pandya feels the ongoing T20 World Cup is going to be the biggest responsibility of his career as a finisher because "everything is on my shoulders" in the absence of "life coach and brother" MS Dhoni. In an interview to 'ESPNcricinfo's Cricket Monthly', the 28-year-old superstar, whose fitness is a concern heading into the event as he did not bowl in the IPL, spoke about the many challenges of his life, his acceptance of the not-so-perfect self and the extraordinary bond he shares with Dhoni.

This would be India's first World Cup campaign since Dhoni retired in 2020 and the side will open its campaign against Pakistan on October 24 here. Dhoni has been appointed the team's mentor for the mega-event. "The biggest so far, I will say, because this time I don't have Mahendra Singh Dhoni. Everything is on my shoulders - I like to think that way because it gives me an added challenge. It is going to be exciting, a cracker of a tournament," he said.

Speaking of Dhoni, a fiercely private person whose life outside cricket is as enigmatic as his persona on the field, Pandya said the two-time World Cup-winning captain is someone he turns to in times of adversity, turmoil and even to understand his own mind. "MS was someone who understood me from the start: how I function, what kind of a person I am, what are the things I don't like, everything. When I was picked for the New Zealand series (in January 2019, after the suspension was revoked), initially there were no hotel rooms (for Pandya in New Zealand). But then I get a call, saying, You just come. MS has told us, 'I don't sleep on the bed in any case. He will sleep on my bed and I will sleep on the floor.'

"He (Dhoni) was the first person who has been always there. He called me around the same time I had the conversation with Akash. He knows what kind of an individual I am. He knows me quite deep. I am very close to him. He is the only person who can make me calm. When all this happened, he knew that I needed support. I just needed a shoulder, which he provided multiple times in my cricketing career. I never saw him as MS Dhoni the greatest. For me, Mahi is my brother. I respect and admire the fact that he was there when I needed him the most.

Pandya said there are times when he struggles to understand his own thoughts and it is Dhoni who comes to his rescue. "Mahi bhai is a darling. There are a lot of things I am allowed with him, which no one else is. We connect well. Maybe he likes the fact that I never treat him like MS Dhoni. And he understands where I come from. He is like, Okay, yeh kar raha hai toh kuch soch ke kar raha hai (If Hardik is doing something, it's only after he has considered it) type.

"In a certain way, yes (he is my life coach). We have lovely conversations. As I said, only Mahi can make me understand certain things. Sometimes if I get strong-headed and I go into that zone and I believe some things, I have to call him and say, 'Yeh soch rahan hoon, kya chal raha hai, batao.' [This is on my mind. What do you think?] Then he will explain. So, yes, in a lot of ways he is a life coach.

"Staying with him, obviously, you learn to be mature, you learn to become humble. I have learned a lot by watching him. He never loses his cool. Not cool - I don't like the word, and people calling him Mr Cool does not suit him. For me, he is always stable. When he goes out, people are always going to him with requests for photos and xyz. I have thoroughly copied how he behaves outside. When I go out now, no matter how many people are there, there will always be a big smile on my face."

On to his own self and Pandya acknowledged that he has not been perfect but his family has made sure that he has never gotten too big for his boots. "I accept my flaws or I give myself that benefit of doubt that, okay, you were young. The early two years (of my career), maybe I was little here, little there, but we were a close family. There is absolutely one thing clear in our family: if I'm wrong means I'm wrong; there's no sugarcoating.

"That makes us a strong family because everyone can have an opinion. Krunal and I leave Hardik Pandya the cricketer and Krunal Pandya the cricketer outside the house. In our family if someone is flying, they make sure to pull them down."

A lower back injury, which required a surgery, has all but ended Pandya's chances of playing Test cricket but he does not worry about it too much. "There is no fear. It's okay."

And this absence of fear comes from life experiences and the belief that he is a game-changer on the field. "It is just the confidence in my skills. I have a lot. It comes because I am a very process-oriented person, not success-oriented. Process matters. Am I working hard? Am I making sure I am looking after my body? Am I making sure I am looking after all my skills?

"The confidence part is simply from where I have come in life. I don't have anything to lose when I go on the field. I don't have anything to prove to anybody. When I walk in, I always feel I have an aura, which is for me to feel I belong there. I feel like I am the king there. When I go to bat, I think they (opposition) are like, 'Now he's going to do something'. That gives me confidence.

"I don't like easy situations. I love to be that guy who feels his best in a difficult situation. That confidence has come with time, acceptance of who I am, what I am, how I function. In the last two years I have started this new thing - if I score a zero, I will celebrate. I will celebrate because of simply one reason: that I have seen good days in my life. How can I value those good days more? I never celebrate on my good days."

Pandya is also acutely aware of the fact that he is closely watched and he revels in that spotlight. "I don't seek attention, but I get attention because of who I am. If I go to the crease, because of the kind of cricketer I am, they have to keep an eye on me because they know that if this guy clicks, he can take the game away. I am aware of that, but it never shows in my personality, in my behaviour or in my way of talking."

Pandya said the greatest virtues in his book are honesty and having the good sense to concede when wrong. He cited his approach towards the TV show controversy to drive home the point. "My plan at the time was always that: Hardik, three years down the line if someone is having this conversation, I don't want to say: 'I was caught in a trap' or 'It was not my mistake'. All that I never wanted to do. 

"That's why the first thing I did is, I accepted it. I said sorry. Accepting is a bigger challenge than anything else, so I wanted to be man enough to accept my own mistakes before anyone told me. It gave me a lot of clarity. It gave me a lot of peace. I said, you are young, you made a mistake, accept it, just make sure you don't repeat it. Accept it, smile, keep your head up and go. It taught me a lot about life, it taught me how the world functions. I came out of the bubble a smarter and wiser Hardik."

Pandya also spoke about his relationship with Kieron Pollard. "We call him grandpa. He is from West Indies but he is actually a Gujarati at heart. He literally functions like an Indian: a guy who believes in property, a guy who believes in investments, a guy who believes: instead of buying a car, I'll buy property because it will grow, ek rupiah nahin waste karoonga (I won't waste a rupee).

"How Krunal is for me, Pollard is the same. He has been part of the international circuit for a long time. I don't sometimes understand how it functions, but he has taught me to let it be. I am very upfront if I don't like something. There are lots of times when he has calmed me down, lots of times when he has given me life lessons. The relationship started because of Krunal. In 2015 at the IPL I did not speak to Polly. He was in the next room but it was just 'Hi Polly, bye Polly'. In 2016, when Krunal came in, I started talking to Polly. Polly is now family, not just a friend, not just a team-mate."

(With inputs from PTI)

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ICC World Twenty20, 2021IndiaMumbai IndiansHardik PandyaKieron PollardMS Dhoni

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