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India vs South Africa: Hardik Pandya a key in middle-order puzzle

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Over the last year, Hardik Pandya has been more absent than present in the Indian team. His injury issues have persisted over a lengthy period of time but now the hard-hitting all-rounder has made a comeback to the ODI setup for the upcoming series against South Africa. 

There are reasons manifold as to why Hardik is such a key element in India's ODI middle-order. His return would be a much welcome boost to the fifty-overs side that just suffered a 0-3 whitewash in New Zealand

The utility value

India's ODI side, after the end of the World Cup in England, hasn't been all that impressive and a major concern is the void created by a big hitter who can take the game away in the late stages. Hardik adds this extra zing while also solving another major issue that has plagued India in the recent past - that of a sixth bowler.

So often in the New Zealand series, India seemed to struggle with at least one of their best five bowlers and had very few options for the sixth bowler with none of the top 6 batters capable of bowling. As a result, Jadeja was a must-pick as the no.7 aside from the four tail-enders who would bowl. 

This narrative changes as Hardik returns. He adds the extra option of pace and helps lengthen the batting as Jadeja can move one place down without compromising on the bowling much. 

The power factor

India's current ODI batting setup is such that a player like Hardik is imperative in the lower middle-order. The likes of Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli, Shreyas Iyer and KL Rahul make a strong top five but none of these players are out and out power-hitters. At best, they are stroke-makers who can up the ante but cannot take the game away in a matter of 5-6 overs.

Hardik adds exactly this to the batting group. His strike rate is the best for any Indian batsman since 2017 (min 300 runs) and he has four half-centuries despite batting below a solid top and middle-order and coming in to bat late in an innings 

Best Batting SR for Indians since 2017 (min 300 runs)

Batsman -- SR -- Avg 

  • Hardik Pandya -- 116.47 - 30.4
  • Rishabh Pant -- 103.6 -- 26.71
  • Kedar Jadhav -- 100.87 -- 41.17
  • Shreyas Iyer -- 100.8 -- 49.86
  • Shikhar Dhawan -- 98.86 - 46.6

Hardik's game-changing knocks as a floater for Mumbai Indians in the Indian Premier League has been top-notch and having someone like him down the order eases pressure on the top and middle-order. 

The winning factor

Forget that he adds balance to the side and Hardik still finds ways to prove he is essential for India's success in ODIs, particularly since MS Dhoni is no longer in the side as an aggressor. 

Since the beginning of 2018, India have played 22 ODIs with Hardik in the side, winning 16 of them and losing just 6 matches - a win/loss ratio of 2.66.

On the other hand, they have played 32 games without him in the playing XI and won 19 while losing 10 matches - a win/loss ratio of 1.9.

Post the World Cup, India are yet to play with Hardik Pandya in the starting XI. In this period, India have lost five of the 12 ODIs they have played, winning just six matches in the same time frame. 

The balance he adds to the side has notably been missed and his return could just fire India back to their best form in One-Day Internationals.

Feature image courtesy: AFP / Sajjad Hussain

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