Hardik Pandya was a boundary-hitting machine in his initial days but the ace all-rounder has evolved so much that he believes he can play any role for his team. The Indian T20I captain is quite close to MS Dhoni in real life and now doesn’t mind playing the same role the former wicketkeeper-batsman from Jharkhand used to play for India.
"See, to be honest, I've always enjoyed hitting sixes, but I have to evolve and that is life. I have to take the other part where I've always believed in partnerships. I want to give my team and the other person more calmness and the assurance that at least I'm there,” said Pandya after leading India to a 2-1 victory over New Zealand in Ahmedabad on Wednesday (February 1).
“I've played more games than any of those guys out there. So, I've known the experience and more than the experience part, it's where I've batted, and I've learnt how to accept pressure and I've learnt how to kind of swallow the pressure and kind of make sure the team and everything is calm.
“In that way, maybe I have to get my strike rate down or... Taking new opportunities or taking new roles is (something) I've always looked forward to. I don't mind coming in and playing the role which somewhere down the line Maahi (Dhoni) used to play.
"I think at that time, I was young, and I was hitting all around the park, but now since he has gone, all of a sudden that responsibility... It has just naturally come to me, and I don't mind doing it. We're getting the result we want and it's okay."
Pandya is someone who likes to lead by example. He had always been a clutch player and enjoys thriving under pressure. In the absence of Jasprit Bumrah, Pandya has also started bowling tough overs for India. The right-arm paceman can now swing the ball both ways and is constantly bowling in the powerplay.
“I had to bowl with the new ball (in T20Is) because Arshdeep (Singh)... I don't want any new guy to come and have that difficult role of [bowling first up with the new ball] because if they're put under pressure, then we're chasing the game. So, I've always been (like) leading from the front and I've been working on my new-ball skills, which is helping me."
With a 50-over World Cup scheduled in India for October-November this year and a T20 World Cup in the West Indies and the USA in 2024, Pandya is not thinking about Test cricket. He hasn’t played any red-ball cricket since December 2018 and just wants to focus on white-ball cricket.
"I will come (back) when I feel it's the right time to play Test-match cricket. Right now, I'm going to focus on white-ball cricket, which is important, and if time is right and body is fine, I'll give (the long format) a try."
Talking about Shubman Gill, who smoked 126* off 63 deliveries to prove his worth in the shortest format of the game, Pandya said: "He's technically so sound that it's very easy for him. It's just a switch he needs to do to play T20, ODI and Test cricket because he has the game for all formats.
"So, to be honest, he's not someone who does not need to play behind the wicket because of the kind of shots he can play all around in front of the wicket with the gaps. He's actually one of those batsmen along with Surya (Suryakumar Yadav) who can hit good balls and make them a bad ball.
"Having said that, it's just tremendous seeing his growth and it has been very fruitful for me (as captain). He's a kid who has a right head on his shoulders and going forward I think he's going to be a great value and asset for the Indian cricket team. I wish the best to him, and I want him to continue the great run, which he is having."