Hardik Pandya believes he has evolved so much as a T20 cricketer that he can absorb the pressure and play any role for his team. About six years ago, he came to a press conference and said, “I could hit six whenever I wanted.” Hardik is now “okay” to step back, take the game deep and play the role MS Dhoni did towards the end of his international career.
“See, to be honest, I’ve always loved hitting sixes, but I have to evolve and that’s life,” Hardik said after leading India to a 2-1 series win over New Zealand in Ahmedabad. “I have to take the other place where I’ve always believed in partnerships. I want to give my team and the other person more peace of mind and reassurance that at least I’m there. I’ve played more games than any of these guys out there. Well, I’ve met experience and more than the experience part, is where I’ve hit, and I’ve learned how to take the pressure and I’ve learned how to swallow the pressure and kind of make sure the team and everything is calm.
“That way, maybe I have to lower my strikeout rate or… Taking on new opportunities or taking on new roles is [something] I always looked forward to it. I don’t mind coming in and playing the role which is somewhere below the Maahi line [Dhoni] i used to play I think at the time, I was young and hitting it around the park, but now that he’s gone, all of a sudden that responsibility… It came naturally to me and I don’t mind [doing it]. We get the result we want and that’s fine.”
On Wednesday, Hardik played that role with the bat, often giving the stroke to a well-set Shubman Gill and letting him do the big hitting, though Hardik himself finished with a strike rate of 176.47. Hardik has improved on the bowling front too – he now regularly bowls the tough overs for India in the powerplay in the absence of Jasprit Bumrah due to injuries. Since the start of the home season, Hardik has bowled 12 overs in the powerplay, conceding 86 runs for two wickets. Even in the recent Indore ODI, when India rested their key bowlers, Hardik stepped up with the new ball and swung it.
“I had to bowl with the new ball [in T20Is] because Arshdeep [Singh]… I don’t want anyone new to come in and have that difficult role [bowling first up with the new ball] because if they get pressured then we chase the game,” said Hardik. “So I always have been [like] I’m driving from the front and I’ve been working on my skills on the new ball, which is helping me.”
On the eve of the start of the T20I series in Ranchi, Hardik said he is preparing to bowl in the powerplay by bowling the new ball even during practice. Hardik’s ability to move the new ball – both in the air and off the seam – has given India’s attack more flexibility, allowing them to charge the overs of Arshdeep Singh and Umran Malik.
“I don’t mind coming in and playing the part that Maahi [Dhoni] i used to play I think at the time, I was young and hitting it around the park, but now that he’s gone, all of a sudden that responsibility… It came naturally to me and I don’t mind [doing it].”
“I have always loved bowling with the new ball,” Hardik had said in Ranchi. For several years now, when I pick a ball in the net, it is always the new ball. I’m so used to bowling with the old ball that I don’t feel the need to practice much with it. Whenever the team needs me to do the job, I can do my best. It has helped me personally. In the last game [the Indore ODI], when we had to rest our two key fast bowlers, I had to be ready. There is no pressure when you prepare well.”
Hardik Pandya – “My focus is now on white ball cricket”
With an ODI World Cup scheduled in India for October-November this year and a T20 World Cup in the Caribbean in 2024, India’s stand-in T20I captain Hardik has prioritized white-ball cricket over Test cricket. Hardik has not played any form of red-ball cricket at the senior level since undergoing back surgery in 2019. His last Test was in Southampton in 2018 and his last Ranji Trophy match was in the same year.
“I’ll come [back] when i feel [it’s] right time to play Test match cricket,” Hardik said. “Right now, I will focus on white-ball cricket, which is important, and if the time is right and the body is fine, I will give [the long format] a test.”