Dubai: There are enough cricket fans who still love to hate Hardik Pandya, the Indian allrounder. It’s got nothing to do with his game - but for the way he carries himself or his indiscreet remarks in that talk show with Karan Johar which is not yet ‘forgiven.’
It’s however time to take him seriously as a cricketer for the manner he has stood out in the white ball contests against Australia so far. While he swung the second T20 International at Sydney on Monday to seal the series for India, the cavalier who honed his skills in the pressure-cooker atmosphere of Indian Premier League showed a new-found confidence and maturity in building the innings during the One-day Internationals.
While India looked out of sorts in the 50-over contests, the 27-year-old emerged as an extremely important cog in the wheel at number six with scores of 90, 28 and unbeaten 92 - before carrying on the same vein in the T20s. If strong performances Down Under are the benchmark of a cricketer coming of age, then one has to admit that he is getting closer to being that complete package that India were looking for in all formats of the game. Indian skipper Virat Kohli identified Pandya as their “bankable” matchwinner for the next ‘‘four to five years,’’ and he was not far from the truth. India needed 25 runs off the last two overs and Pandya delivered in style, smashing two sixes in the final over to secure a six-wicket victory with two balls to spare.
“He has natural raw talent and now he’s quite experienced having played quite a bit of T20 cricket in the IPL (Indian Premier League) and playing for India too,” Kohli said after India’s second successive win in the three-match series.
“Now he realises that this is his time, the next four-five years, to become that bankable middle-order player that can win you games from anywhere.
“You need that finisher and he’s becoming that for us. He’s hungry, he’s got to keep getting better.”
Pandya, whose 42 not out off 22 balls earned him the Man of the Match award, said earlier that the new-found fatherhood and marriage has helped him to be more responsible. In a refeshing admission to an Indian daily, he also regretted the ‘misogynistic’ comments he made during ‘Koffee with Karan,’ which resulted in him and KL Rahul being slapped with bans and sent back from the last tour of Australia in 2019.
Speaking in a recent interview, Pandya said that it was a difficult time for him and he pulled through because of the support he received from his family. “I really didn’t know what ‘misogynistic’ meant. At first, I laughed thinking it was some word being used to make fun of me. Then a friend said it means “someone who strongly dislikes women”, Pandya said.
“How can I dislike women? Mom, didi (sister), bhabhi (sister-in-law), Natasa - they’re all women. I adore them. My home is all about women. We are, because they are,” he added.
“For the first time, I wasn’t in control of my own life. Everything around me started to crumble. I had to lock myself up. If not for my family, I’d have lost a great deal of everything. They were and continue to remain the backbone - the women in my family,” he admitted.
Well, this is Hardik Pandya 2.0, and so is Rahul - thrust as the vice-captain in the white ball contests. The composure Pandya showed during the second T20 in the face of a mounting asking rate has not gone unnoticed. “I always believe as a cricketer, you have to improve with time and I have taken some time but I think things are coming pretty well now,” said the 27-year-old.
“Now my biggest goal ... (is) that I want to finish games where it matters the most,” Pandya added.