By Anand Vasu
The moment that turned the match, that sealed India’s place in the final four of the 2019 World Cup came in the 34th over of Bangladesh’s chase. The world’s best allrounder, Shakib al Hasan, who has taken his batting to a whole new level in this tournament, was outfoxed by the man hoping to lay claim to his title. Hardik Pandya, seeing Shakib move to leg to make room to free his arms and hit inside out, followed the batsman with a slower ball. All Shakib could do was chip the ball to the fielder in the ring.
On the face of it, it appeared that Shakib (66) had just momentarily lost it, perhaps trying to up the ante. But, in truth, Pandya the bowler had been building up to this. While he does not swing the ball extravagantly, seam it significantly or generate the kind of pace that would be enough to blast out batsmen, Pandya does just enough of all of these things to be a more-thanhandy customer in these conditions.
When India play at home, more often than not, Pandya is a batting allrounder. His approach to batting, where he hangs back deep in his crease, feet locked into position, long levers unlocked to enmesh timing and power, are perfect on slow and low pitches.
He can clear most boundaries with ease and bowling spin to him in those conditions is almost not an option any longer.
However, in England, especially in this World Cup where you face a new opposition each game, play in different sized grounds, in varying atmospheric and pitch conditions, Pandya’s batting has taken a bit of a back seat.
It is not as though he hasn’t had his moments.
Against Australia, it was Pandya who brought that intimidating X-factor to the table, hammering 48 off only 27 balls, taking India’s total from a good one to one that intimidated even the five-time world champions.
But, by and large, it has been his bowling that has given Virat Kohli the most value in this tournament.
Kedar Jadhav, who was in the mix till India’s most recent match, against Bangladesh, has largely not been seen as a viable bowling option. On a slow, sticky surface against Afghanistan, where you would imagine Jadhav’s right-arm below-the-belt bowling would have been perfect, he was not used at all. In all, the captain has only seen it fit to bowl Jadhav for six overs, four of which came in one game, for 34 wicket-less runs.
With Jadhav more or less going unutilised, Pandya has gone from being an option to a certainty to bowl 10 overs. And, given this new role, he has adapted excellently. India’s logjam at the top, with Mohammed Shami coming in to replace the injured Bhuvneshwar Kumar and doing well, alongside golden boy Jasprit Bumrah, could have led to instances where Pandya was not really needed.
But, until the game against Bangladesh, in which India did some course correction to insure against a short boundary in Edgbaston, Pandya has been called upon to bowl quite early in the innings, through the middle overs and occasionally even nip in for a short burst towards the death.
At different times in the innings, Pandya has adapted his bowling style. Early on, with the ball still semi-new, he does look to see if there is any assistance for him, in the air, and keeps the ball up, looking for swing. If there is no help, and when he is bowling later into the innings, Pandya reverts to the more subcontinental bag of tricks, variations of pace, cutters, change in angles and at no point has he disappointed.
“We experienced that Hardik, when put under pressure, has come back really well in this tournament…” Kohli said. “He finds a way to contain the runs and get you wickets. He’s really looking forward to do stuff for the team, that’s really helping his cricket.
When he comes to bowl, he thinks like a batsman. He actually wants the ball under pressure because he thinks like a batter, so he can check their body language and know what to bowl and when. He’s bowling really well for us.”
Bharat Arun, India’s bowling coach, was similarly effusive. “It was a big challenge for him to bowl those 10 overs, and he realised that to be able to bowl those 10 overs he needed to develop a certain armoury in his bowling,” said Arun.
“He’s worked on his slow balls, his slow bouncers, and he’s also worked on perfecting his bouncers.
All these put together have given him the confidence to go through those 10 overs.”
And equally importantly, it has given the captain the confidence to bank on 10 solid overs from his allrounder.
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this column are that of the writer. The facts and opinions expressed here do not reflect the views of www.economictimes.com.)