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Hardik Pandya is back in India blue, and so are the fortunes

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Last updated on 22 Jun 2024 | 05:01 PM
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Hardik Pandya is back in India blue, and so are the fortunes

Hardik Pandya in Indian blue: that’s made of a completely different gravy

What’s it like to be Hardik Pandya in India?

Well, there’s no one definite answer because Hardik’s relationship with the fans is as complicated as a hexagonal cube. 

Imagine yourself in Hardik’s shoes. Just a few months before the start of the T20 World Cup, he was the national villain. In just the first few games that Mumbai Indians travelled, he was booed, be it Hyderabad, Ahmedabad or even Wankhede, for that matter of fact. 

How do you answer to your critics? Well, purely by performance. In the entire Indian Premier League (IPL) 2024 season, all that Hardik managed with the bat was 216 runs, averaging a meagre 18 while striking at 143.1. 

If you look at it microscopically, there was one area where Hardik was exposed time and again: any ball that was short. Hardik's response was to find the fielder in the deep, be it a good bouncer, a well-executed back-of-a-length delivery, or a slower bouncer. 

Anything short often transitioned to the opposition team celebrating. Across 13 short deliveries (10m+), he was dismissed four times at the IPL, averaging 4.3. While there was definitely the intent to strike hard, all of those efforts were often futile. 

Even that 8-10 m length turned out to be a kryptonite for Hardik, with two dismissals, averaging 12.5. For someone who had made a career out of smashing such deliveries, Hardik’s downfall at that particular moment felt like his entire world was crumbling right in front of his eyes. 

But at the back of his mind, Hardik was always aware of one fact. It only takes one day for everyone in the country to change their opinions. Till India made the trip to the West Indies, Hardik’s batting presence was merely like a side hero in an action-filled movie from the south. 

Even then, though, the 30-year-old found ways of contributing to the larger cause, be it his bowling or the swift fielding out there in the field. But the moment an opportunity arose, Hardik showed his batting like Sherlock Holmes finds his clues - without breaking too much sweat. 

India were 90/4 in 10.5 overs against a tricky Afghanistan bowling unit. The conditions in Bridgetown too were not friendly for free-flowing batsmanship. That’s where Hardik’s class with the bat oozed through the television screens. 

It was evidently visible when the Baroda-man walked down the ground, with a still head, bisected that tiny gap between the two fielders for a glorious four to kick things off for him. It was too poetic to be true. That day, it really didn’t matter who was bowling to Hardik; his response would have definitely given you goosebumps. It felt like Hardik, the vintage basher, was back. 

He might have scored just 32 off 25, but his knock that day was perhaps the difference between 150 and 180 for the Men in Blue. That was just a trailer. 

Cut to June 22 (Saturday), Hardik decided to show the entire movie. 

India found themselves at 108/4 in the 12th over against Bangladesh; it wasn’t like India were under any kind of pressure. But even then, India needed a special from Hardik, and that’s exactly what he delivered. After seven balls, he was on six, quite a sedate start, if anything. 

However, the moment Bangladesh got in Mahedi Hasan, Hardik decided it was time to accelerate, with a six over the extra cover region. He then doubled down on that motive with a four. Even Bangladesh’s best spinner, Rishad Hossain, wasn’t spared as Hardik went downtown, an area that he greatly accesses against spinners - particularly leg spinners. 

The real test, however, was that back-of-a-length slower ball, which Tanzim was always going to target. But even there, it was one-way traffic as the 30-year-old smacked it down back. Hardik didn’t stop there, he further went on to plummet Mustafizur Rahman, Bangladesh’s finest death-over bowler in this edition, for 20 runs off just nine deliveries. 

You remember, how Hardik used to struggle against those back-of-a-length or that short delivery during the IPL? None of that now. The right-hander scored 31 off 24 facing those lengths that troubled him at the IPL. 

All it required was a shade of orange in that blue jersey for Hardik to turn into a hero from a villain. India’s middle-order now looks complete, and all those small chinks are starting to dissipate in thin air.

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