Hardik Pandya has featured in five finals of the Indian Premier League and has won the title on all occasions. While his first four title wins came for Mumbai Indians, on Sunday, it was an emotional moment for ‘captain’ Hardik - guiding new entrant Gujarat Titans to its maiden trophy.
This was the first time Hardik captained a team in the tournament, and he led by example. He motivated the team to perform to the best of their abilities and also made sure that he, too, delivered.
The final against Rajasthan Royals on Sunday was one such moment when Hardik picked up three wickets and then chipped in with a 30-ball-34, paving the way for the team’s seven-wicket win.
“Throughout the season, I've always enjoyed the responsibility. It kind of gets the best out of me. And I've always been someone who wants to lead from the front. So I can set an example, and make sure that even if I want a certain way for my team to function, I kind of be the first flagbearer to make sure that they have a kind of a person who's doing it,” Hardik said in the early hours of Monday, a while after lifting the trophy for Gujarat Titans, “So, it makes more sense if I say it and I do it first…”
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Talking about his fifth title win, Hardik said: “This will be special since I was the captain this time. The previous four times I won the title were also special because winning the IPL is always special. I consider myself lucky to have played five finals and lift the trophy on all occasions. So, obviously, this will leave behind a legacy since it’s a new franchise, and we are the champions in the first season.”
Hardik hasn’t played international cricket since last year’s T20 World Cup, but a consistent show in the IPL has earned him a call-up for the five-match T20I series against South Africa, beginning next month. And he believes that going forward, his only target is to win the World Cup for India.
“It’s absolutely to win the World Cup for India no matter what happens. I have always been the kind of guy who puts his team first. So, for me the goal will be simple - to make sure that my team gets the utmost and playing for India has always been a dream come true, no matter how many times and how many games I have played,” he said.
“It has always been a pleasure for me to represent the country. And the kind of love and support I've got it's only from the Indian team's point of view. So, the long term or short term goal is that I want to win the World Cup, no matter what happens….”
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Throughout the tournament, bowling has been a key area for the Titans, and Hardik admitted that both he and coach Ashish Nehra were keen on building a strong and experienced bowling unit which would be able to handle every situation.
“I have always believed that even though a lot of people say that T20 cricket is a batter's game, hamesha bowlers match jitate hain (always bowlers win you matches). If batters don’t score on par and if you have a top-gun bowling, which we had, then you can pull things back,” he said.
“In matches, where other teams have conceded 190 runs, we have made sure that we concede 10 runs less. In a broader picture, those 10 runs play a significant role because you end up winning or losing due to those runs…
“For me and Ashu paa , we made sure that we will make a strong and experienced bowling unit because if a situation arises where batters can’t score, you can still pull things back. That helped a lot,” Hardik added.
After winning the trophy for the Titans, the television cameras spotted Hardik and his wife Natasa - who looked emotional.
“Obviously, she is someone who's very emotional, and she gets happy when she sees me doing well. She has seen me go through a lot of things and she has kind of seen me putting in those hard yards no matter what happened. That’s something I don’t speak about, but she kind of knows how hard I have worked behind the scenes,” Hardik explained.
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During the rough times when he was out of the Indian team due to injury and inconsistency, it was tough for Hardik to bounce back, but his family helped him immensely.
“My family has always been my strong pillar. My brother Krunal, my sister-in-law Pankhuri, my other brother Vaibhav, and a lot of people - my wife, and my son - have all been fantastic to make sure that I stay in the best frame of mind. Whenever I am playing, it kind of helps me because I know that my family is always there to support me no matter what happens,” he said.
“My brother cried when I called him, my sister-in-law cried as well. Those are tears of happiness and something fantastic. I live on and feed on the love that I keep on getting from my family…”
The last few months have been challenging for Hardik, but he has managed to silence the critics with his indomitable spirit and fearless brand of cricket. And as the theme song of Gujarat Titans suggests, for Hardik, too, it’s time to focus on the Indian team and cement his place. ‘ Aava De! ’. Bring it on.