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India's Hardik Pandya plays a shot during the third Twenty20 against New Zealand at Narendra Modi stadium in Ahmedabad on Wednesday. Image Credit: AFP

Ahmedabad: After leading India to 2-1 series victory over New Zealand in the recent T20I series, captain Hardik Pandya revealed he doesn’t mind taking the game deep and playing the role that M.S Dhoni did in the shortest format of the game.

“See, to be honest, I’ve always enjoyed hitting sixes, but I have to evolve and that is life. I have to take the other part where I’ve always believed in partnerships. I want to give my team and the other person more calmness and the assurance that at least I’m there.”

“I’ve played more games than any of those guys out there. So, I’ve known the experience and more than the experience part, it’s where I’ve batted, and I’ve learnt how to accept pressure and I’ve learnt how to kind of swallow the pressure and kind of make sure the team and everything are calm,” he said in the post-match press conference.

Under Hardik, this was India’s second T20I series win of this year after defeating Sri Lanka at home last month and on Wednesday, he was giving strike most of the time to Shubman Gill so that the youngster could do the bulk of hitting.

New opportunities

“In that way, maybe I have to get my strike rate down. Taking new opportunities or taking new roles is (something) I’ve always looked forward to. I don’t mind coming in and playing the role, which somewhere down the line Mahi (Dhoni) used to play.”

“I think at that time, I was young, and I was hitting all around the park, but now since he has gone, all of a sudden that responsibility … It has just naturally come to me, and I don’t mind (doing it). We’re getting the result we want and it’s OK,” he added.

Hardik is also regularly bowling the tough overs for India in the Powerplay since the start of 2023, including the time when he got some swing in the Indore ODI when Mohammed Shami and Mohammed Siraj were rested, to take the pressure of doing the difficult task off Arshdeep Singh and Umran Malik.

New-ball skills

“I had to bowl with the new ball (in T20Is) because Arshdeep (Singh). I don’t want any new guy to come and have that difficult role of [bowling first up with the new ball] because if they’re put under pressure, then we’re chasing the game. So, I’ve always been (like) leading from the front and I’ve been working on my new-ball skills, which is helping me.”

With the 2023 ODI World Cup to be held in India in October-November and a T20 World Cup in the West Indies in 2024, Hardik signed off by saying white-ball cricket is his priority right now over playing the longer format.

“I will come (back) when I feel (it’s) the right time to play Test-match cricket. Right now, I’m going to focus on white-ball cricket, which is important, and if time is right and body is fine, I’ll give (the longer format) a try.”

Pandya was full of praise for the young right-handed batter Shubman Gill, saying his technique is so strong that he makes batting very easy for himself.

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Pandya (right) celebrates India's win with Shubman Gill (centre) and Washington Sundar. The Indian skipper heaped praise on the opener after his century on Wednesday. Image Credit: AFP

All around shots

“He’s technically so sound that it’s (batting) very easy for him. It’s just a switch he needs to do to play T20, ODI and Test cricket because he has the game for all three formats. So, to be honest, he’s not someone who does not need to play behind the wicket because of the kind of shots he can play all around in front (of the wicket) with the kind of gaps there.”

“He’s actually one of those batsmen along with Surya (Suryakumar Yadav) who can actually hit good balls and make them a bad ball,” said Pandya in the post-match press conference.

Gill’s 126 not out, laced with 12 fours and seven sixes at a strike rate of 200, is also the highest score by an Indian in T20Is, eclipsing the previous best by Virat Kohli, who had smashed 122 not out against Afghanistan during the Asia Cup in the UAE in September 2022.

Tremendous growth

“Having said that, it’s just tremendous seeing his growth and it has been very fruitful for me (as captain). He’s a kid who has a right head on his shoulders and going forward I think he’s going to be a great value and asset for the Indian cricket team. I wish the best to him, and I do want him to continue the great run, which he is having,” added Pandya.

Gill also became the fifth Indian batter to have scored a century in all three formats of the international game after Kohli, Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma and K.L. Rahul. Pandya signed off by saying it was not surprising for him to see the kind of knock played by Gill at Ahmedabad on Wednesday.

“I have always felt that he has got the technique and style to play all formats. To be honest, for me, it was not surprising. The time he has, the effortless batting he can do, I don’t think a lot of people can do that.”

“So, for me, I knew this would happen and it’s good to see doing this in this format as for him, it means a lot and as a youngster, if you can get success in all formats possible, it just adds more dimension to your game.”