Hardik Pandya considers himself as a batting all-rounder. He loves keeping it that way.
He had made heads turn with a classy 76 against Pakistan in the final of the Champions Trophy. He hasn’t had much to prove with the bat since then, considering India had played limited number of ODI matches.
On Sunday afternoon, in Chennai, the boy from Baroda proved his mettle with the bat yet again. India was struggling at 87-5, but Pandya, in partnership with Mahendra Singh Dhoni, turned things around for the host in majestic fashion.
While Dhoni focused on rotating the strike, Pandya went hammer and tongs to put the pressure back on the visiting side. Adam Zampa was at the receiving end of Pandya’s onslaught.
With a knock of 83 in just 66 deliveries, Pandya showed his batting prowess to the world.
Australia skipper Steve Smith admitted that it was Pandya’s innings and the 118-run partnership with Dhoni that made the difference. “They (India) put a 120-odd (partnership) and took them from 87 to 206. In the end, that proved to be a match-winning partnership,” Smith said.
After India lost five early wickets, no one expected Pandya to go on a rampage the way he did. “Pandya’s batting was outstanding,” Yuzvendra Chahal said, giving full credits to his team-mate.
While the fans celebrated Pandya’s success, sitting far away in Mumbai, his first mentor, Kiran More, too was happy to see his old ward getting all the attention. “He has always been a different character. He is bubbly, energetic. When he came to my academy at the age of six, he was a curious kid who wanted to do everything — bowl and bat,” More told Sportstar. “He still remains the same. He is a bit special, and it’s the natural ability that works well.”
More remembers how Pandya ‘transformed’ into the medium pacer. “I never thought he would be a fast bowler. He initially started as right-arm leg-spinner, and in one of the matches, we were short of one pacer, so we asked him to play as a pacer. That’s how it started.”
What happened by chance is now helping India win matches. Being one of the bowling mainstays of the team, Pandya has been able to raise the bar. But the former chief national selector also has a word of caution for his ward. With the 2019 World Cup not far away, More feels, Pandya needs to keep his ‘eyes and ears open.’
“There will be a lot of competitors around. So, he needs to work hard and see what the others are doing. That’s an important area,” More said. “ In terms of batting, Pandya will have to be a bit more careful with his shot selection.”
At the Chepauk on Sunday, Pandya gifted his wicket despite a long stay at the crease. According to More, these are the areas that need special attention. “He is a match-winner and he needs to learn a thing or two from someone like (MS) Dhoni. His advises will help Hardik. That will help him quite a lot,” More said.
Over the years, cricket has evolved and More feels that this is the age of the all-rounders. “He needs to keep that balance. Pandya coming in at No. 6-7 is also a bonus for the team. He needs to keep this going,” More said.
With his exploits on the field, he has gained the confidence of his skipper Virat Kohli and earned the moniker of ‘Kung Fu Pandya’.