Copy of 447864-01-02-1654950841323
India captain Rishabh Pant (right) and teammate Hardik Pandya bump fists during the first Twenty20 international against South Africa at the Arun Jaitley Stadium in New Delhi. The second match of the series takes place tomorrow at the Barabati Stadium, in Cuttack. Image Credit: AFP

Cuttack: Despite India losing the first T20I to South Africa by seven wickets at Arun Jaitley Stadium on Thursday, they had some positives on the batting front putting up a score of 211/4. Amongst them, Hardik Pandya and Dinesh Karthik were making a comeback to the T20I side. The pair will be aiming to grind out a win in tomorrow’s second Twenty20 clash against the tourists at the Barabati Stadium, in Cuttack. India will be eyeing to level the series, while South Africa will aim to make it 2-0.

While Karthik played just two balls, Pandya provided the finishing touches with his wristy stroke-play in making an unbeaten 31 off 12 balls, laced with two fours and three sixes at a strike rate of 258.33. Now, in a video posted by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), Pandya expressed his feelings about coming back to the India T20I team after being last seen in the national side during the 2021 Men’s T20 World Cup.

Long break

“Playing for the country has always been special, especially after a long break. I am coming back fresh and am very excited to be back. It gives me the opportunity to show exactly what I’ve worked hard for. Doing well for the country is more important, and it gives me immense pleasure. Just looking for some positives and exciting days ahead,” said Pandya.

The all-rounder returned to the Indian team after leading Gujarat Titans to IPL 2022 title at their home ground in Ahmedabad, shining with an all-round performance of 3/17 with the ball and 34 with the bat.

“I was happy. But for me, it was more about the battles I won against my own self and a lot of other things as well. Winning the IPL, or to even qualifying (for playoffs) was a big deal for me because a lot of people doubted us. A lot of people frowned at us before we started. A lot of people raised a lot of questions. A lot of things were said for me even before I made a comeback. It was never about giving them answers,” recalled Pandya.

He further elaborated on the routine he followed during his time off from the Indian team. “I’m just proud of the process I followed. No one knows what I exactly went through during the six months that I was off. No one knows exactly what I went through in the six months that I was off.”

“I have gotten up at 5 in the morning to make sure that I train and then make sure that I train for the second time at 4 PM. So, to give myself enough rest, I’ve slept at 9:30 in the night during those months. A lot of sacrifices were made, but for me, it was the battle that I fought before I played the IPL. After seeing the result, it was more satisfying for me as a cricketer. I’ve worked hard honestly, genuinely and it has always given me results. And that’s the reason that I don’t get very excited when I do something special. Because it’s not particularly about that day of the moment and it’s rather about the journey.”

With 2022 being a Men’s T20 World Cup year, to be hosted by Australia in October-November, Pandya’s next aim is to be in his best self ahead of the mega event. “Every series and every game you play is as important as your last. Obviously, World Cup is the goal for me, but this is the right platform for you to get into the rhythm. You know that a lot of cricket is going to come back-to-back. So for you to always be in the rhythm is very important.”

'Express myself'

“For me, this series is a good opportunity for me to express myself. My roles will change here. I won’t be the captain and I won’t be batting higher up the order to guide through the innings. This will be back to what Hardik has been known for.”

South Africa are looking confident after their first win and are being lead well by Temba Bavuma. Rishabh Pant is leading the Indian team after KL Rahul was ruled out of the series with an injury. India lost a Test and ODI series against the Proteas earlier this year therefore they have the added incentive of going for the kill in the T20I series.