In just over 15 months, Baroda’s Hardik Pandya has taken a giant leap in his professional career—he is now seen as an all-format all-rounder for India. He has represented India in seven One Day Internationals (ODIs) and 19 Twenty20 internationals (including the Twenty20 World Cup in 2016).
However, it was the Indian Premier League (IPL) that brought the Baroda player into the limelight in 2015. He was selected for the Indian squad for the first two Tests against Australia recently but did not play and then got injured. Now he is gearing up for the 10th edition of the IPL for Mumbai Indians, who play their first match against Rising Pune Supergiants today.
The 23-year-old spoke to Mint recently in Delhi. Edited excerpts:
It’s been a roller-coaster ride. Has life changed dramatically?
After playing the T20 World Cup (last year in India), I struggled in the IPL and even lost my place in the team (Mumbai Indians). That was a big reality check. In hindsight perhaps, I got carried away by the hype after playing for India for the first time.
How did this change?
After being out of the reckoning for the national team (after IPL 9, May 2016), I went to play a KSCA (Karnataka State Cricket Association) tournament in Bengaluru for Baroda. Then, out of the blue, I got a call for the Australia “A” tour since one player (Vijay Shankar) got injured. I was initially selected just for the limited-overs matches, not the four-day matches. I bowled well (5 wickets at an economy rate of 4.90 in 7 matches) and my batting was just okay (five innings, 47 runs). Then, since he (Shankar) had not recovered, I had to stay back for the longer matches as well.
So luck played its part. And you turned it around in Australia.
I started decently in the first Test (8-11 September, Brisbane). Our (India “A”) coach Rahul Dravid had told us that one might not remember what we do on the whole tour but the performance of the last match is often talked about. We were 46 for 6 when I joined Jayant (Yadav) as I was batting at No.8. I scored 79 and I consider that my career’s defining innings.
You seem to have matured a bit…. Is it because of setbacks such as being dropped from the team?
Maybe that kind of jhatka (setback) was necessary in my case. I knew and realized that this kind of flamboyance (in lifestyle) would not work if I was to play for India. You need to present yourself in a better way because you can’t be seen as careless. Obviously, there were other important factors, like improvement in fitness. Now, I sleep around 10pm unfailingly.
So you are no longer a party boy?
I never was. My personality is such—and I tend to dress differently—that people think I am a party animal.
You have become conscious of fitness.
I have changed my diet. My captain Virat Kohli tells me that I can eat a lot of things since I have to play in all three formats and my requirements as a player are different from his.
He (Kohli) is far, far ahead of us in fitness and awareness. He sets the tone for younger players. I see him and observe a lot of his patterns. He will never miss his training schedule, his gym sessions. He has shown us the value of eating on time, training on time and, most importantly, sleeping on time.
How has fitness helped your game?
Earlier, I used to bowl in the mid-130s (kmph) but now I am bowling above 140.
Have interactions with (Rahul) Dravid played a role in your comeback?
Cricket is a situational sport and one has to play according to the demands of the team, he told me. You just can’t say this is your natural game and shrug off your responsibility.
Do you think you are more likely to make your debut abroad than in India?
Jayant’s (Yadav’s) role in India could be mine abroad. I want to ensure I can be picked either as a bowler or as a specialist batsman.
In our last conversation, you said you wanted to be India’s Jacques Kallis…
I want to be India’s Hardik Pandya.
One of the most important lessons you have learnt so far?
Copy karo paste karo (copy and paste). This is Kohli’s formula—if you got a century, remember that innings and try to repeat the same process. You just need to remember the methods which made you successful. You need to copy those and paste them.
Vimal Kumar is the author of Sachin: Cricketer Of The Century and The Cricket Fanatic’s Essential Guide.