Hardik Pandya is the latest ‘next Kapil’, but maybe we should let him be
What do you call a cricketer who bowls off a long run-up and can hold his own with the bat? Simple: an all-rounder. Now, what do you call an Indian cricketer who bowls off a long run-up and can hold his own with the bat? Well, you ask: Is he the next Kapil Dev?
Sports fans are always desperate to fill gaps left behind by legends (while insisting, of course, that there will never will be another like them). For example, until Virender Sehwag tore up the form-book, we loved short, technically correct right-handed opening batsmen because they reminded us of Sunil Gavaskar.
Kapil Dev’s are, without doubt, the biggest boots to fill in the context of Indian cricket. For a decade-and-a-half, he spearheaded spin-heavy bowling attack with pace. He had an outswinger to die for and an engine that never stalled...over after over, spell after spell, session after session, match after match, year after year.
And with a bat in hand? The 175 against Zimbabwe in the 1983 World Cup, and the four sixes in a row at Lord’s in 1990 to save follow-on come to mind immediately, but numbers don’t capture the excitement, the expectation, the buzz each time he walked out to the crease.
Ever since his retirement in 1995, India have been hunting for a capable replacement—more in hope than anything else.
With the passage of time, some of these will sound absurd: Chetan Sharma and Manoj Prabhakar were once pegged as players capable of taking over that mantle, as was Robin Singh. Bizarrely, there were next-Kapil Dev murmurs when Javagal Srinath started being promoted to No.3 in One Day Internationals.
We had great hopes from Reetinder Singh Sodhi when he led India to the Under-15 World Cup, but he never quite made the step up.
Ajit Agarkar followed—wiry but quick, with an ability to take wickets when you least expected it. A half-decent outswinger, however, was negated by control issues, and the gift of timing with the bat was cancelled out by a debilitating lack of craft.
Then came Irfan Pathan. He had a beautiful bowling action, he consistently hit a length that made him appear quicker than he was, and he had an inswinger that swung big and swung late. He was so good and so fresh that Imran Khan compared him to a young Wasim Akram.
Even as a batsman, he had a lot going for him—good defensive technique, he had all the shots in the book, he was untroubled by both pace and spin, and he had a confidence in his abilities that convinced everyone that his batting talent was being wasted at No.7.
We’ll never know if it was the pressure of being the next Kapil Dev that weighed him down, but his fall, when it came, was as dramatic as his rise to the top had been.
Over the last couple of weeks, we have found our latest next Kapil Dev in Hardik Pandya. He’s a monster with the bat in hand, and more than just handy with the ball. Most of all, he’s shown he’s got the maturity to succeed in high-pressure situations, that he’s not just a fair-weather, flat-track bully.
However, considering how many of our all-rounders have been sunk by comparisons with Kapil Dev, it might be a good idea to let Pandya be himself. As you might have noticed, he’s doing just fine.
Deepak Narayanan, a journalist for nearly 20 years, now runs an events space, The 248 Collective, in Goa. He tweets at @deepakyen.