World Cup 2019: Meet Hardik Pandya, Team India's emotionally-charged all-rounder

As Hardik gears up for his maiden World Cup sojourn in England, his friends and well-wishers are confident of his success.

Hardik Pandya the hyper-aggressive batsman is feared by all opponents. Hardik the fast bowler is developing. He is a livewire fielder too. What more do you want in an all-rounder?   -  K. R. DEEPAK

Oh tamey Hardik Pandya ne goto chho?” (Oh, you are looking for Hardik Pandya?) Mahesh Parmar, the cab driver asks in Gujarati, as he drives us from Vadodara railway station to Diwalipura, in the city’s suburbs.

A few minutes earlier, he had asked us about our destination and on hearing that we were heading to the residence of Hardik Pandya — the cricketer — the driver could not hold back his curiosity.

Perhaps, he found it hard to believe that two strangers — the photographer and I — had travelled all the way from Mumbai to look for the younger Pandya. “Su Hardik bhai ghare chhe?” (Is Hardik bhai at home?) he asks, to be doubly sure.

After hearing a ‘No’, Parmar — who appears to be in his early 40s — regales us with stories he knows about Hardik.

From his tattoos to his love for hair colours — for the next 20 minutes, he tells us everything about the India all-rounder, who is gearing up for his first World Cup. Most of it, of course, is the gossip he has heard in local tea shops and read in regional newspapers. But his animated and lively narrations make it sound as if he has experienced it all first-hand.

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And it’s not just Parmar. Roam around the historic city of Vadodara — which still believes in staying closely knit — and everyone has a tale to tell about their ‘Harry’!

13/182, Parishram Park, Bapu Ni Dargah — is an address not many may have heard of. Tucked in one corner of Vadodara city, this small flat in an old four-storeyed building, was once the home of the Pandyas. Back then, the man of the house, Himanshu, ran a business — dealing with cars and finances — while his wife, Nalini, looked after the young Hardik and Krunal.

For the two brothers, breaking into the Ranji Trophy squad for Baroda was still a distant dream, forget thinking about the India cap.

They were busy playing street cricket.

Hardik and brother Krunal Pandya are the priceless possessions of Mumbai Indians in the IPL. Krunal too is a competitive cricketer, a steady left-arm spinner and a hard-hitting left-handed batsman.   -  PTI

 

“While Krunal was more serious about the game, Hardik would just accompany him to the practice sessions. He would watch his brother play and that’s how it all began,” recollects Neville Wadia. Family friends of the Pandyas, the Wadia family — which runs the New Sunrise School on Waghodia Road — played a key role in helping both Hardik and Krunal ‘fall in love’ with the sport.

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The brothers studied in the school before Himanshu moved to Surat and this is where they developed an interest in cricket.

Neville, who was a cricketer himself, laid out a concrete pitch in the school ground in 1998 and that gave the Pandyas enough opportunities to spend time outside the classroom.

“Hardik was never interested in academics. He just wanted to play cricket and that’s all that mattered to him,” Shirin Wadia, who taught both the brothers, says. The daughter-in-law of Neville, Shirin was fondly called as ‘Diana Madam’ by both Krunal and Hardik and she still remembers how the younger brother, Hardik, bunked classes.

“After every few minutes, Hardik would come up with excuses to skip classes. Basically, he was never interested in studies. Even during examinations, he spent more time on the field than in the classroom,” Shirin recollects.

While Hardik was always a ‘happy-go-lucky’ youngster, his elder sibling Krunal was more attentive and responsible. “Krunal and Hardik would come to school, with their father (Himanshu). He has done everything to ensure that the two get proper exposure,” Neville says.

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Despite having a steady business in Surat, Himanshu returned to Vadodara — which has a strong cricketing culture — to make sure that his children received expert guidance in cricket.

That’s when Kiran More entered the picture. Over the next couple of decades, the former India wicketkeeper changed the world for the Pandya brothers.

From budding cricketers, they emerged as top talents…

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Former India wicketkeeper Kiran More (L) is from Vadodara and his academy has honed the Pandyas to excel.   -  VIVEK BENDRE

 

Krunal was the first one to enrol himself at More’s cricket academy at the IPCL sports complex ground — which is now known as the Reliance Stadium. Hardik was just four or five then. But even then, he accompanied his elder brother for practice every day.

While Krunal trained with his team-mates, Hardik would stand in one corner of the ground and try to emulate some of the things he learnt from Krunal. It would mostly be animated, up in the air shots, but he did it with great enthusiasm.

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“Hardik was a kid then. He would come and run around. One day, I called him and said, “you also join.” That’s how it started. He would come and play with us everyday,” More recollects.

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Russy Wadia’s family runs the New Sunrise School in Vadodara. It was here that the Pandya brothers fell in love with cricket. The Pandyas and the Wadias are staunch family friends now.   -  Vijay Soneji

 

This went on for a few years.

Every morning, the brothers were among the first to reach the academy. They would hit the ground, run for a while and then once the coaches — More and Jitendra Singh — came in, the brothers too would start with regular drills.

“There were times when I would scold him, but my objective was clear: I wanted these boys to do well. Both brothers had something special in them and that’s why I wanted them to get better,” More says, quickly adding: “I always shout at guys who have potential…”

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Back then, Vadodara was going gaga over two brothers — Yusuf and Irfan Pathan — for their heroics in the Indian team. Having battled the odds and stormed into the team, the Pathans inspired a lot of young cricketers in the city.

Krunal and Hardik were no different.

Quite like the Pathans, the Pandya brothers too had many hurdles to cross, but they were driven by a dream. While life threw challenges, Krunal and Hardik were determined to perform even better. The duo soon made it to the age-group teams of Baroda.

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Russy Wadia’s family runs the New Sunrise School in Vadodara where the Pandya brothers fell in love with cricket.   -  VIJAY SONEJI

 

Ideally, there shouldn’t have been any looking back. But if it’s Hardik, ‘life mein twists toh banta hai’!

On December 10, 2009, most of the local newspapers in Vadodara carried pictures of a young boy, who scored a double century against Mumbai in an U-16 Vijay Merchant Trophy fixture.

Leading the side, Hardik, batted for eight long hours to score 228 runs in 391 balls.

What was unique about the innings was the fact that chasing Mumbai’s 306, Baroda was reeling at 24-4, when captain Hardik entered the scene.

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“That was his first season and that was the start of his journey. Later, he made it to the U-19 side and the transformation was smooth,” says his coach, Jitendra.

Till then, he mainly played as a batsman, who also bowled leg-spin. But in one of the local games when the team lacked a pacer, Jitendra advised him to bowl medium pace. It was a gamble and it paid off!

“In that match, he took five wickets in the first innings. I was surprised to see the line and length. That’s how, his journey as an all-rounder began,” Jitendra, who has been with Hardik through thick and thin, reveals.

His heroics against Mumbai made him a known name in the cricketing circles of the city and soon he began training with the senior cricketers of Baroda.

Irfan Pathan remembers an incident when he was hit for a few sixes by Hardik at the nets. Irfan, then, was a regular in the national team and he was impressed to see a young gun going hammer and tongs at the pacers. “Hardik was a special talent. What caught my eye was his fearlessness. And after watching him play, I knew I would be supporting this guy,” Irfan says.

Soon after the practice session got over, Irfan gifted him a bat and a pair of gloves.

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The Pandya brothers struck a chord with the Pathans. “When we were growing up, senior players like Rashid Patel would help us with gear. So, it was our duty to help out the younger lot,” Irfan explains.

While Hardik made his presence felt on the field, off it, he remained happy-go-lucky. He had a fascination for hair colours and cars, and there were occasions when many veterans in the Baroda cricketing circles raised eyebrows at his extravagance. But the younger Pandya let his performance do the talking!

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The Pathan brothers, Irfan and Yusuf, have encouraged their city-mates, the Pandyas.   -  PTI

 

The then Baroda coach, Sanath Kumar, was surprised to see Hardik at the nets. Having seen him as a leg-spinner earlier, the seasoned coach was impressed with the youngster’s performance.

“That afternoon, he volunteered to bowl a few overs and after a few deliveries, I thought this guy had huge talent,” Kumar says.

That was in 2013-14. Hardik had just broken into the Baroda senior team. “He was a bindaas cricketer and quite outspoken. He would speak his mind and such players actually climb the ladder,” Kumar says, admitting that Hardik had ‘great potential’.

The very next year — in 2015 — he was picked by Mumbai Indians in the IPL auction for a base price of ₹10 lakh.

And, there was no looking back since.

Even though he looked patchy in the first two seasons, the Mumbai franchise backed him to the core, ensuring that he was always in its scheme of things. Hardik, too, reciprocated by hammering 250 runs and scalping six wickets in the 2017 season.

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More says that the stint with Mumbai Indians actually made Hardik more mature. “The MI set-up has helped him a lot. The fitness levels have improved because of a fine coaching staff. Spending time with Sachin has helped him…,” More, a former national chief selector, says.

At a time, when the cricketing world is talking about ‘three-dimensional’ players, More says that Hardik indeed fits into that zone. “His graph has been terrific. He is going to go a long way. The way he is batting, bowling and fielding… So, when you are talking about a three-dimensional player, Hardik is that player,” More says with a smile.

Though Hardik scaled newer heights, he always remained grounded. When he was chosen in India’s T20 squad for the Australia tour in 2016, Hardik ensured that Russy Wadia — the son of Neville — accompanied him. “He was extremely excited and wanted to share the happiness with his loved ones. So, he asked me to come and watch him play in Adelaide,” Russy says.

“I have seen Hardik growing up and even today, whenever he is in Vadodara, he makes it a point to come and meet us. You may think he has an attitude, but the reality is, he is very soft inside,” Russy says. He still remembers the time when Hardik would come and stay with him for nearly three months. “That’s how he is. If he loves you, he will do anything…” Russy says.

For Hardik, it has been a similar story on the field as well. When donning the India colours, he has always made his presence felt.

But then, it hasn’t been a bed of roses.

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Despite his success, injuries and controversies continued to walk hand in hand with the 25-year-old. After a terrific outing with the Indian team, Hardik suffered a career-threatening back injury during the Asia Cup last year. But with sheer determination and hard work, he was back in business soon.

He returned to Baroda’s Ranji Trophy side and emerged a match-winner against Mumbai. “When he played against Mumbai, his team-mates were thinking how Hardik would mix with them. He came in a big car, but as soon, as he entered the dressing room, he was the old Hardik. He gelled well with the team and ensured that we fared well. That’s part of his charm,” former India international, Atul Bedade, who was the coach of that team, says.

However, earlier this year, he was embroiled in controversy for his remarks on the television show ‘Koffee with Karan’. With the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) suspending him and K. L. Rahul, things looked difficult for the all-rounder.

"We have known Hardik since his childhood but it was shocking to see him make such remarks. It was important for him to realise that he is a cricketer and in our country, the cricketers are regarded highly. It was quite unexpected," Russy says.

"Off the field, he has always been cheerful and has spoken his mind. But all of us felt that he should have been careful as a public figure," he adds.

However in the recently concluded IPL, Hardik was able to focus on his game and emerged as the leading run-getter for the Mumbai Indians, helping to a record fourth title.

“That’s the thing about Hardik. He has always been able to battle past the odds and has never allowed negativity to creep in. That makes him special,” Russy remarks.

As Hardik gears up for his maiden World Cup sojourn in England, his friends and well-wishers are confident of his success. “All he needs to be careful about is fitness. If that’s taken care of, he can go far,” his coach, Jitendra says.

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There was a time when few believed the Pandya brothers would come close to India colours. But every time, life has thrown him a challenge, a resilient Hardik has hit back, fast and furiously.

That’s Hardik Pandya for you!

SIDELIGHTS

Name: Hardik Himanshu Pandya

Age: 25

From: Gorwa, Vadodara

Friends call him: Harry

Favourite Food: Chicken

First school: New Sunrise School

First coach: Kiran More

Little-known fact: Hardik loves feasting on chicken. Every time he is Vadodara, he visits the Wadia family to have chicken curry. “This has been his favourite since childhood,” says Neville Wadia.

 

QUOTE:

“It has been a fantastic journey for him. His graph has been terrific. The way he is batting, bowling and fielding is really good. So, when you are talking about a three-dimensional player, Hardik is that player.

— Kiran More, coach

 

HARDIK STATS

Tests: 11. Runs: 532. 100s: 1. Highest score: 108. Wickets: 17.

ODIs: 45. Runs: 731, 100s: 0. 50s: 4. Highest score: 83. Wickets: 44.

T20Is: 38. Runs: 296. 100s: 0. Highest score: 38. Wickets: 36.