Is Hardik Pandya the all-rounder India needs?

It is never easy to step into the shoes of a genuine all-rounder like Kapil Dev or exude the multi-faceted dimensions that were intrinsic to M. S. Dhoni but Kohli and company are hoping that Pandya will somehow fit the bill.

Numbers suggest Hardik Pandya could be more than a bits-and-pieces player.   -  AP

Kapil Dev last played for India on October 17, 1994. Since then the search for an all-rounder has continued without a break. The pivotal player, who has twin abilities and maximises the team’s strength, is essential to all cricket squads.

M. S. Dhoni in his role as wicket-keeper-cum-batsman, was in a sense an all-rounder too. But with his Test retirement in 2014, India is again searching for that crucial balance in its lower-order, a critical need further amplified by Virat Kohli’s preference for five frontline batsmen.

It is in this context that Hardik Pandya’s emergence as the seaming all-rounder, is seen as a welcome option for Kohli. Pandya is in an unenviable position, his role is one into which previous managements tried to pigeon-hole Ajit Agarkar, Irfan Pathan and more recently Stuart Binny.

The idea was to have that singular cricketer, who can bowl medium-pace and score handy runs lower down the order, a sort of insurance especially when India travels to Australia, England and South Africa. It is never easy to step into the shoes of a genuine all-rounder like Kapil or exude the multi-faceted dimensions that were intrinsic to Dhoni but Kohli and company are hoping that Pandya will somehow fit the bill.

The 23-year-old from Gujarat, a certainty in India’s limited-over squads, secured a berth in Tests during the current tour of Sri Lanka. At Galle and in Colombo, Pandya dished out quick-fire knocks (50 and 20) and had bowling figures of 1 for 13, 0 for 21 and 2 for 31. These are early days still but the numbers hint that Pandya could be more than a bits-and-pieces player, a species prevalent among Kapil’s men who won the 1983 World Cup. To top it, Pandya is excellent in the outfield.

‘Great asset’

All these attributes have enthused Kohli, who said: “He bowls around 135, when he bends his back he can go higher. He is a great asset. Especially his batting, he scores quickly and that saves you time and gives you another 15 overs to bowl at the opposition. And his fielding is tremendous. I have a lot of faith in him as far as any format is concerned. For Test cricket he has got the technique. He is a really good batsman. You might not look at it precisely but we understand how much he can bring to the table. I have the faith that he will be able to perform on any surface. When you play away from home, [you need] one guy [who] gives you a lot of balance and I think Hardik can be that guy.”

With no Kapil or Dhoni in its ranks, India has no explosive player of their ilk. But a singular absence can be perhaps masked by an aggregate strength. If Pandya can lead the way along with R. Ashwin, a fine batsman in his own right, and if Wriddhiman Saha and Ravindra Jadeja can lend their respective traits of doggedness and chutzpah, India could well have a tail that can sting too.

Pandya has got a start but arduous tours await the all-rounder. Be it South Africa towards the year-end or England, much later, the opposition will be of tougher mettle unlike the present Sri Lankan outfit that is down 0-2 in the series. Pandya has shown that his flamboyance is not just about his streaks of coloured hair or tattoos, it is also intrinsic to his sport. In the days ahead, he needs to add depth to his repertoire.