Why Hardik Pandya reminds one of David Warner!

The all-rounder's selection is an unorthodox call by the selectors; if he utilises this opportunity to carve out a successful India career in the Test format, he will have vindicated the gamble.

Hardik Pandya will have to adjust to a much higher workload.   -  K. Bhagya Prakash

The value of all-rounder Hardik Pandya is depicted by adjectives — impact, pace, competence, athleticism — rather than by statistics, which is usually the measure to assess a player. India’s chief selector M. S. K. Prasad believes Pandya is the ‘top most’ all-rounder in terms of potential in India’s ranks.

Although unusual, the selection of a player for his promise is not really out of place. One of Australia’s batting stalwarts in this era, David Warner, started his international journey owing to a gamble by the selectors. He was the first Australian in a century to feature in an international match without playing a first-class game, when he played a T20I against South Africa in Melbourne in January 2009.

The selectors were right on the potential Warner had been picked for, as he gradually secured a permanent slot for himself for Australia in all formats.

Warner had played 11 first-class matches before making his Test debut. Pandya has featured in 16 first-class matches for Baroda. His batting and bowling statistics are ordinary, but given the small sample size, nothing substantial can be ascertained from it.

Pandya has played with confidence and panache in India’s colours this year, and his value to the team is not in doubt despite a lacklustre Indian Premier League (IPL). He bowls fast, fields well, and has demonstrated capabilities of destroying bowling attacks as well as rescuing teams from batting collapses. But Test matches will provide challenges of a different kind for him.

Pandya has played 86 limited-overs matches (Twenty20s and List A matches) in his three-year old domestic career. He has a relatively low economy rate in both formats; in Twenty20s, gives away runs at 7.64 an over, and in List A, at 4.80 an over. Combined with his decent bowling strike rates and impressive knocks with the bat, it makes him a handy player for any team.

However, the scenario changes when considering his first-class credentials. He has taken a single five-wicket haul in his short career, and has hit five half-centuries in 26 innings. His batting average remains ordinary at 27.96 and his bowling average of 33.72 remains unremarkable.

What seems have tilted the scales in Pandya’s favour is his decent showing with the bat in the tour of Australia for India A. In the second unofficial ‘Test’ in Brisbane in September, he compiled a responsible 79 at No.8, rescuing his team from a precarious position – 46 for 6. He shepherded the tail to eventually take India to 169. The innings provided an indication of his capabilities of batting according to the situation, and dismissed the theory that he was just a slogger. He had average numbers with bat and ball in the other first-class match he played in that tour.

In the previous season of Ranji Trophy, Pandya made his presence felt for Baroda mainly with the ball. Even so, his performances were hardly exceptional. He took 17 wickets for the team, in seven matches, at 29.88.

If he is selected, he will have to sustain high levels of quality in performances over a much longer period on the field. His physical and mental stamina will be tested, as the 23-year-old will have to face a higher grade of opponent than he has ever encountered in his 16 matches long first-class career. The other all-rounder in the selectors’ minds — Stuart Binny — has already proven his worth for a strong Karnataka team in 13 seasons of first-class cricket, and therefore, Pandya’s margin of error will be low.

In contrast, the other new entrants to India’s Test squad — Karun Nair and Jayant Yadav — have been selected for their first-class merit.

Nair has been an integral part of the middle-order for a Karnataka side that won back-to-back Ranji Trophy titles in 2013-14 and 2014-15. His 92 against Mumbai in the Irani Trophy earlier this year took Rest of India to an unlikely target of 480 to clinch an unlikely win. That innings was a stamp on his quality, which is already proven with his first-class average of 52.68.

Owing to injuries to three of India’s batsmen, Nair could obtain a spot in the playing XI for either of the first two Tests against England. That is, if the selectors do not decide to replace the injured Rohit Sharma with an all-rounder, Pandya.

It is apparent that off-spinner Yadav has been selected to serve as a back-up spinner to the three main spinners in the squad — Ravichandran Ashwin, Amit Mishra and Ravindra Jadeja. Yadav has taken 117 wickets for Haryana at 29.70, many of them at Lahli, which is considered to possess seamer-friendly pitches. He also has a double-century in his kitty, something that holds value if he is assessed as an all-rounder.

The job for Nair or Yadav will be simpler; they have to do what they have been doing for their respective domestic teams. Their roles are by-and-large settled with years of seasoning in domestic cricket.

But Pandya will have to start effectively from a clean slate. If he is to become India’s next big all-rounder after Kapil Dev — something India’s selectors are on the lookout for — he will have to adjust to a much higher workload. The promise, which is built on his limited-over exploits, will have to be sustained over five days.

His selection is an unorthodox call by the selectors; if he utilises this opportunity to carve out a successful India career in the Test format, he will have vindicated the gamble. He can look towards Warner for an example.

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