Cricket: Hardik Pandya’s knock reminded of Kapil Dev, but he still has a long way to go
Hardik Pandya’s blistering knock in the series’ first One Day International (ODI) on Sunday, which left the Australians disbelieving and defeated, reminded me of Kapil Dev. I can’t remember such clean hitting by any Indian player since the great all-rounder.
Pandya’s high backswing and follow-through in his strokes is similar to Dev’s. He’s got keen eyesight, razor-sharp reflexes, great sense of timing and total absence of fear. The last mentioned attribute is the key to his success as yet.
Like Dev, Pandya been unaffected being on the “big stage”. Ordinarily, the attention that comes with playing at the international level can make young players nervous and error-prone. Pandya seems to relish the pressure. He’s obviously strong of nerve.
His penchant for big shots comes as much from ability as intrepidity. Hitting the ball in the air is not frowned upon these days as when Dev was playing. Yet batsmen always tend to look to security and percentages first before taking risks.
Obviously, Pandya’s been given the licence to play the way he does by captain Virat Kohli. But it still needs courage and capability. Former India wicket-keeper Kiran More, who has seen Pandya play since the time he was a child, speaks highly of his determination and street-smartness.
Some of this shows in Pandya’s brief career so far. Crackling all-round performances at the Indian Premier League helped him leapfrog into the Indian limited overs side. He made his mark early with some compelling cameos before the sizzling half century in Chennai on Sunday.
More pertinent, in my opinion, was his breakthrough in Tests in July against Sri Lanka. He was an unexpected, even contentious, choice. By the end of the Test, however, with a vital, stroke-filled half century and a couple of wickets, he had left critics no reason to gripe.
In the past 18 months he has been in India colours, Pandya has improved with every outing and has been a quick learner. Slim and sinewy, he packs a punch in his batting, is a superb fielder and has the uncanny ability to pick up wickets.
Much like a young Kapil Dev, his action-packed performances have tilted matches his team’s way just when things appeared to be getting tight. For fans, there’s the promise of something extraordinary happening when he’s around.
The success he has enjoyed so far will have alerted opposing teams’ coaches, captains and players. I reckon there are already videos of his being studied with the express purpose of scuttling his growth. Dev didn’t let this happen by keeping his rate of improvement ahead.
But any further comparison with Dev would be preposterous. The body of work accomplished by the former ace all-rounder is stupendous, which highlights not just maturing of natural talent into sustained match-winning efforts, but also longevity of career that is rare.
In Indian cricket, this becomes more relevant where bowling is concerned. Dev’s skills were intrinsically better and got so highly sophisticated over a short period that he became not just India’s spearhead, but also indispensable to the team.
Pandya is still a bits-and-pieces player. Given the strong competition among batsmen, it is how he improves on his bowling which can assure him of a Test place more regularly, especially when India play overseas and a medium-pacer becomes important.
His ability to stroke freely as soon as he comes to bat makes him an ideal “floater” in limited overs cricket, a place which M.S. Dhoni used to occupy earlier. Dhoni, meanwhile, has transitioned smoothly into becoming bulwark.
In the two matches that India have faced crisis in recent months (apart from the Chennai ODI, the third match against Sri Lanka), he has been the common factor in bailing the team out. He has used his rich experience, resolve and ability to “read” the game brilliantly.
More compellingly, Dhoni has shown no compunction in playing second fiddle to junior partners (Bhuvaneshwar Kumar in the match against Sri Lanka), but ultimately emerging as major domo in both wins.
Sceptics had raised issues whether Dhoni’s form was waning and whether he would be fit to last the rigours till the 2019 World Cup. In just a couple of months, he seems to have settled the case irrevocably in his favour.
Ayaz Memon is a senior columnist who writes on sports and other matters.