posted on 2019-06-04 17:14:36
posted by Sarah Waris
Hardik Pandya - a seaming Indian all-rounder found after 33 long years of unending search - could well have fallen into a pithole of overconfidence after two years of international cricket.
Mediamen compared him to the legend Kapil Dev. His boisterous hair-cuts, which included a phase when he coloured his hair blue to match his Team India colours, and his ear piercing found him followers on social media. A hefty Mumbai Indians contract to go with it all could well have pushed Pandya into a disillusioned world, where the emphasis on living a life of blitz overshadowed his cricketing efforts.
Falling from a pedestal often puts life in perspective. Virat Kohli learnt this the hard way in 2008 after a poor IPL with RCB. Fresh from the highs of captaining India to their Under-19 triumph in Australia, Kohli suffered a massive setback when he scored only 165 runs in 13 innings at a poor average of 15 and at a strike rate of 105 in the T20 league. Determined to not let fame or fortune distract him in the way to success, the Delhiite refocused to improve his fitness and cricketing abilities. Less than a decade later, he was leading Team India, was pocketing a billion - ok, maybe a zillion - bucks from sponsorship deals and was well on course to overthrow Sachin Tendulkar as the greatest batsman from India.
It all started with a blip. And then a realization.
Pandya, caught up in the ways of life - like all youngsters his age are often prone too - was accorded this lesson when he appeared on Koffee with Karan, a show that thrives on sexual anecdotes of established stars, but views on that are reserved for another day.
Pulled up by the BCCI for his sexist remarks, withdrawn from India’s tour to Australia and suspended from a few international games might just have been the stumbling block Pandya needed to get back on track. He did not step out of the house for weeks after the episode was aired. Maybe he was introspecting. Maybe he was hurting. Maybe he was chiding himself for being so very foolish.
It all started with a TV show. And then a realization.
A realization that he indeed is one of the most talented players around. A realization that superstardom on the field could be achieved if the energy was harnessed in the right direction. And maybe one that it was cricket that had given him his identity and that cricket could take it all away from him as well.
Since his comeback in New Zealand, the changed mindset is all too visible. He is more subdued though he is unable to control his joy when he plays a helicopter shot in front of MS Dhoni. He appears more determined and is perhaps in the best frame of mind. In the IPL, he was constantly scoring quick runs to take his team across the line if chasing, or helping MI with a cushion of runs if they were batting first. He hit 29 sixes in 16 games this year - the most in an IPL season - which indicates how much he enjoyed his game and backed his strengths.
The only player to compete with Andre Russell in the edition - and competing with a monstrous freak like Russell is no easy task - Pandya finished the IPL with 402 runs at a strike rate of 191.42 - his best figures. With the ball he was a notch below his 2018 heroics, but overall, Pandya’s maturity coupled with his new-found finishing skills and his belief that he can win the game from any situation is what augurs well for Team India ahead of the World Cup.
"As a cricketer, I have changed," Pandya had said after helping MI beat RCB with a 16-ball 37*. "Everyone has a setback, and for me, I got to improve, got some time for my body as well. The time I was out is helping me right now because I am in a good mind space and everything is coming right."
Team India begin their campaign after a long wait - oh, what a wait it has been - on June 5 against the South Africans, with a middle order that looks wobbly and inconsistent. While the top 3 is the best in the world, the number 4 spot is yet to be identified. KL Rahul might just have sealed the slot after a hundred in the warm-up game, but it is the presence of MS Dhoni and the now-calmer Pandya later down that is creating all the frenzy.
The keeper is undoubtedly one of the best finishers in the game, and though he might have slipped recently, his ability to up his game when needed can in no way be ignored. Pandya’s resurgence will allow Dhoni to play sans pressure, something that he was unable to do given the Gujarat player’s inconsistent run in the past, while the 25-year old player will just aim to play to his strengths. With one milking singles and the other smashing the best bowlers at the death, the new pair of finishers promise truckloads of entertainment in the upcoming weeks.
Yes, the fist pumps and the bat raises after the protegee smashes a helicopter shot in front of the master promises to keep the fans entertained, all right.