Hardik Pandya India’s biggest takeaway as focus shifts to Super Eight stage

Picture Credit : Debasis Sen

As umpires Richard Kettleborough and Sharfuddoula were inspecting the Lauderhill, Florida, outfield on Saturday for a match between India and Canada in the ICC T20 World Cup, three Indian players walked up to them to have a chat. Captain Rohit Sharma was accompanied by Virat Kohli and Hardik Pandya. The players were relaxed, chatting and smiling. The IPL 2024 looked like a thing of the distant past.

Not many moons ago, the boo-boys were attacking Pandya wherever he went. He was the target of the so-called ‘Rohitians’ during the IPL. As he took over Mumbai Indians captaincy from Rohit, rumours were rife about a dressing room discord, with the two players reportedly not seeing eye-to-eye. The all-rounder had a forgettable IPL this time and MI finished at the bottom of the table. Rumours surfaced about Pandya’s family trouble also before the T20 World Cup.

Pandya’s IPL form was never going to keep him out of India’s T20 World Cup squad. He is the only genuine seam-bowling all-rounder in Indian cricket and can be trusted at the highest level. The selectors and the team management know his value. But Pandya came to the World Cup under pressure.

The biggest problem at the IPL was his rhythm. He was trying hard but wasn’t finding his rhythm. He looked to be affected by booing and social media trolls. At the T20 World Cup, he has found his rhythm as a bowler. The team environment helped Pandya regain his mojo and it was arguably the biggest takeaway for India, as they finished the group phase with a hat-trick of wins to saunter into the Super Eights.

Pandya started off by taking three wickets against Ireland, claimed a couple against Pakistan and another two wickets against the United States. The game against Canada was abandoned on Saturday. The New York pitch assisted the seamers, but the most impressive aspect of Pandya’s bowling was the way he out-thought the batters in certain cases.

Revisit the dismissal of Fakhar Zaman. Pandya pre-empted the batter’s charge and bounced him. The bouncer was well-directed, which cramped Zaman for room and he could only glove it to Rishabh Pant behind the stumps. Pandya’s intelligence, the way he rolled his fingers over the seam on a short ball, impressed even Inzamam-ul-Haq. The former Pakistan captain praised Pandya on a TV show.

The dressing room atmosphere is one of the reasons why India have been so successful across formats over the last few years. Yes, they haven’t won an ICC trophy for more than a decade now, but their consistency is praiseworthy. Credit goes to Rohit Sharma and head coach Rahul Dravid for creating such an excellent dressing room atmosphere. After a tough IPL, Pandya needed the comfort of the Indian dressing room and he was instantly a different player.

Success helps change perceptions. Irfan Pathan was almost relentless in Pandya’s criticism – his captaincy to be precise – during the IPL. On Saturday, he spoke about how crucial Pandya’s bowling would be during the Caribbean leg of the T20 World Cup. “I think the kind of length he bowls, it’s perfect for dry conditions,” said Pathan on Star Sports, the official broadcaster. “Because he pitches the ball slightly on a shorter side but the line has to be in the stumps. If he does that, especially on pitches like West Indies, where he can use those cutters and bowl those bouncers and hard lengths, it will be difficult to get away,” said Pathan.

India played four pacers in New York, as conditions demanded that. They are likely to go with three spinners, at the expense of a fast bowler, in the West Indies. Kuldeep Yadav will come in. Pandya’s bowling form will allow India to make the necessary change without losing the team balance.

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