Hardik Pandya’s form shows promising signs ahead of T20 World Cup

Pandya has taken seven wickets in his last three outings in the IPL 2024. (Source: X.com)

In the first half of the ongoing IPL 2024 season, Hardik Pandya’s performance, both with the bat and the ball, raised numerous concerns. His bowling duties were sporadic in several matches, sparking debates about his fitness and potential inclusion in the T20 World Cup squad. Additionally, his economy rate exceeded 11 runs per over, and his strike rate was dismal in the first nine games. Although his batting statistics were relatively decent during this period, with 197 runs at an average of 24.63 and a strike rate of 151.5, Pandya struggled to make an impact with the ball.

Despite speculation that Pandya might be overlooked for the T20 World Cup due to his underwhelming IPL performance, the selection committee appointed him as the vice-captain for the upcoming tournament. Chief selector Ajit Agarkar defended this decision, saying that Pandya is “irreplaceable”. The selectors’ confidence in Pandya is evident, considering his consistent performances with both bat and ball over the past two years.

Since his inclusion in the World Cup squad, Pandya has shown remarkable improvement, claiming seven wickets at an average of 14.4 and an economy rate of 8.4. This resurgence indicates that Pandya is returning to his peak form.

In recent games, particularly on challenging pitches, Pandya has elevated his performance to a new level, leaving a lasting impression on the field. It appears that a revitalized Pandya has emerged since the beginning of this month, rediscovering his lost form and confidence.

During the match against Sunrisers Hyderabad at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai, Hardik delivered his best-ever performance with the ball since 2022, claiming three wickets in four overs with an economy rate of 7.80. He came into the attack in the over immediately following the Powerplay. The start wasn’t great as he conceded four boundaries within the first 12 balls. However, he then found the perfect length for the pitch and then he dismissed Nitish Reddy with a well-directed length delivery. He then removed Shahbaz Ahmed and Marco Jansen in his final over to finish with a three-fer. Former India cricketer Sanjay Manjrekar was delighted with Pandya’s spell and said: “This is the best of Hardik’s bowling that we have seen.”

Renowned for his razor sharp outswingers, S. Sreesanth remarked, “Hardik can take the new ball or the old ball, especially against Pakistan, but it’s not only against Pakistan, we are going to play a lot of different teams.”

Echoing Sreesanth’s sentiments, former Australian all-rounder Tom Moody said, “Name me three other people who can do what Hardik Pandya is doing. That’s the bottom line. That skill of being a genuine all-rounder who can bat in your top six and potentially bowl four overs for you is very rare in India at the moment.”

Pandya’s all-round ability is such that you won’t find anyone close to him in the Indian circuit. That’s true. 

It’s been a streak of three consecutive games in which Pandya has bowled his full quota of overs, a promising sign for the ‘all-rounder’ who returned to the competition after recovering from a long ankle injury layoff. Across these three games, Pandya has taken seven wickets, distributed evenly across all phases of the game: one in the Powerplay, five in the middle overs, and one in the death overs. He showcased his versatility by employing a variety of deliveries from his repertoire, adjusting to the conditions and the opposition batsmen.

“I prefer to bowl according to the situation and the conditions,” Pandya commented after the SRH game in Mumbai. “If there’s grip on the wicket, I adapt accordingly, and if not, as was the case today, I focus on hitting the right areas. I believe it worked well.”

What has prompted the change since April 30? Was it his selection for the World Cup or his appointment as vice-captain? Perhaps it was Pandya’s deliberate effort to gradually increase his workload. Whatever the reason, Pandya’s resurgence with the ball is a significant development for Indian cricket, especially with the World Cup looming. Although he has yet to make a big impact with the bat in the IPL, only managing 198 runs in 12 innings, India isn’t overly concerned about his batting form given his past performances in the big tournaments. 

Just as he was in the ODI World Cup six months ago, Hardik will once again play an important role in the playing XI as a middle-order batter and the third or fourth pace-bowling option.