The name that is familiar now was not so well known a few years back. A dream was all that existed for a young boy playing Ranji for Baroda. From playing in the Ranji circuit to representing the Mumbai Indians in the IPL and then finally the national team, Hardik Pandya’s journey has not been an easy ride. And now the question is, has India finally found their all-rounder in Hardik Pandya?
Born October 11, 1993, Hardik Himanshu Pandya is an Indian all-rounder, who is remembered fondly for bowling that final over against Bangladesh in ICC World T20 2016. He is a rare find as there is a dearth of seam bowling all-rounders in the current Indian circuit.
Hardik is known for his aggression and confident nature, be it in his batting or bowling. He is considered to be India’s future all-rounder in limited-overs cricket and has made his name quite early in his career. He represents Baroda in domestic cricket and was coached under former Indian wicketkeeper Kiran More during his teenage days.
The Pandya family suffered from a financial crisis up until Hardik made his IPL debut. But the story goes long back when he failed his class nine and the left his studies just to focus on cricket. “Dad’s dream was that we should play for India, and when I left school, I had no option but to succeed in cricket,” said Hardik.
His family shifted from Surat to Baroda just for the sake of Hardik and his brother Krunal’s cricket training. Former Indian cricketer Kiran More did not charge any fee from Hardik and his brother Krunal for first three years in his cricket academy in Baroda. Initially, Hardik used to bowl leg-spin but later he turned towards medium pace for which the credit must go to More. Up until two years ago, in the local tournament in villages of Gujarat, Hardik used to get paid INR 400 to play for any team.
When Pandya was 5 and Krunal 7, their father Himanshu travelled with them from their home in Surat to Vadodara to enroll them in the former Indian wicketkeeper and selector Kiran More’s academy. “My father used to take us on his bike to the academy, which was 25km away from our house,” Pandya recalls. “We were struggling a lot but there was a strong belief that eventually cricket will take care of everything. And it did.”
As a senior player for Baroda, Irfan Pathan has been an idol and a mentor to Pandya for some time now. “I am privileged to have somebody like him in my life,” says Pandya. “I remember when he came back from a Champions Trophy and was playing a league match in Baroda. I was visualizing how to play a pull shot on his short ball and he somehow got a little offended. My brother was umpiring in that match and Irfan asked him who I was trying to impress. Then, I hit him for 24 runs in one over. He was hugely impressed.”
There is yet another reason why Pathan took Pandya under his wing: They have similar stories of scrambling their way out of poverty through cricket. Just like Pathan and his brother Yusuf, Pandya and his brother Krunal both picked up cricket at an early age, encouraged by their fathers. During his early days in domestic cricket, Hardik did not have any bat to play in the Vijay Hazare Trophy. But Irfan Pathan gave him his bats after Pandya had called the left-arm pacer for help.
Both brothers made their List A debut together for Baroda last year; the former Indian coach, John Wright, saw Pandya during a domestic game in Mumbai in 2014, where he hit 82 runs off 57 balls against a strong attack that included Zaheer Khan and Dhawal Kulkarni—Wright, who was coach of Mumbai Indians at the time, decided then to call him for trials for the IPL team. Thus changed the life of the youngster. Could it be possible that India finally found their all-rounder in Hardik Pandya ?
In 13 first-class matches, his batting average is 27, with no centuries; and he has picked up 17 wickets. In the 28 T20 matches he has played (average 26.47, strike rate 122.68 and 17 wickets), he has shown enough spark for the selectors to pick him. “I want to play for the country in all formats,” Pandya says. “I have been an admirer of Jacques Kallis (the former South African all-rounder) and can bat like him in any position ranging from No.3 to No.7. I am equally comfortable with the new ball and the old ball.”
Hardik made his IPL debut for MI against Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCb), where he scored an impactful 16 runs from six balls, which included only two sixes. He bowled three overs as well but was quite expensive as he conceded 37 runs and went wicketless. He was also praised by Ponting for that short cameo in his debut and added, “I remember Ponting saying after we won the final that people remember Hardik Pandya for the CSK game and the Kolkata one, but I still remember him for the RCB one, because we won the game by 18 runs.”
But then came the match against Chennai that changed his fortune forever. Hardik played a match-winning knock against CSK in IPL 2015 by scoring 21 runs from just eight balls, which included three sixes. Before the match, Hardik did not want to play because of a catch in his neck. But the MI trainer Paul Chapman, motivated him to play and asked him to be on the field after having some painkillers. Till first 10 overs of the match, Hardik was unable to move his neck properly and had taken five painkillers. Later, after the match, Hardik hugged Chapman and calls that match as the turning point of his career.
Having lost five out of their first six games, his team was on the brink of another defeat when Pandya blasted left-arm spinner Pawan Negi for three sixes in four balls. It was difficult to ignore the belligerence with which Pandya hit Umesh Yadav for four boundaries on the trot in the match against Kolkata. In a match against Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) in IPL 2015, Ponting suggested Rohit to send Hardik ahead of Harbhajan. Hardik came out to bat at a crunch situation when MI were four down for 79 and from there on, he ended up scoring 31-ball 61 with the help of 8 fours and 2 sixes.
During a Group C match against Delhi in Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy of 2016, Hardik smashed a scintillating 81 off just 51 balls and during this course, he made headlines because of scoring 39 runs in an over of Akash Sudan.
Hardik got his India cap in the first T20I against Australia on January 26, 2016 at Adelaide Oval. Indian captain MS Dhoni asked him to bowl in the eighth over of the match in which he delivered 11 deliveries because of five wide balls. He conceded 19 runs from his first over, which happens to be the most runs leaked by any bowler in his maiden T20I over. Later, he was given the ball twice and scalped two wickets to his name, which was a relief for him.
In the super 10 match of ICC World T20 2016 against Bangladesh, Hardik was asked to bowl the final over, where he had to defend 11 runs to win the match for India. Experienced bowler Nehra gave him few suggestions but Hardik kept laughing. First ball was a single but the second ball was a boundary followed by another one on his third ball. At that point, Bangladesh needed two from three. India’s defeat was very much on the cards but Bangladeshi batsman choked as they threw their wickets in next two balls.
On the final delivery, the equation came down to 2 from 1. Once again there were a few suggestions by Nehra to Hardik but he kept laughing. Hardik bowled the final delivery which was the short one and te outside off stump. Bangladeshi batsman Shuvagata Hom missed it and skipper Dhoni, who had already removed his gloves, picked the ball and ran to break the stumps. That gave him a hero status! After playing T20Is for India, Hardik got promoted to India’s One-Day side as he was selected in the squad for first three matches against New Zealand recently.
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But after a poor IPL performance in 2016 , He has rose back in this tenth edition with excellent quickfire innings against Pune and a match winning one against KKR. He is definitely the player India is looking forward to in future rivals!
“I owe a lot to the IPL as it has changed my cricket and my life,” says Pandya. Maybe India finally found their all-rounder in Hardik Pandya.