Hardik Pandya's promising show offers India hope
Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, KL Rahul, MS Dhoni, Ambati Rayudu, Shreyas Iyer, Kedar Jadhav, Rishabh Pant, Hardik Pandya, Dinesh Karthik, Vijay Shankar, Ajinkya Rahane, Prithvi Shaw, Shubman Gill, Mayank Agarwal, Manish Pandey, Suresh Raina.
This isn't a random Indian batting group. This is the list of every Indian batsman to have played in the top six in ODIs since 2018. Of these, only four are genuine part-timers or bowlers capable of giving 4-5 overs consistently in a game - Suresh Raina, Kedar Jadhav, Hardik Pandya and Vijay Shankar.
Raina is retired, Jadhav is no longer in India's limited-overs scheme of things and Vijay Shankar isn't in the team currently. This leaves us with Hardik Pandya, who is still in rehab mode after back surgery last year.
Pandya didn't bowl during the entire UAE stint for Mumbai. In the 2019 World Cup in England, he bowled his entire quota of overs six times. He has 54 wickets in 55 ODIs at a rate less than six runs per over. While the economy isn't great, it is still lower than Navdeep Saini, Shardul Thakur, Khaleel Ahmed, Deepak Chahar, Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav (considering numbers since Pandya started playing).
In Pandya, India have a genuine all-round option, a huge bonus for a side struggling to find balance in this format. But on Friday, India learnt something else. They learnt that Hardik Pandya could be a genuine top-six batter without him needing to bowl to fit into the team.
They should have known it after the Champions Trophy final. They should have known it after his brilliant attacking innings in a Test in South Africa. They especially ought to have known it after watching him slog it in the death for Mumbai. But here we are, nearly five years after his international debut, discussing that he is a potentially good batsman, capable of holding his own as a pure one.
At Sydney, Hardik walked in with India in dire straits chasing an improbable total. He started with a crisp drive off Adam Zampa and was soon enough pulling Cummins and slogging the leggie down the ground. When Australia tried to squeeze in overs from Glenn Maxwell, Pandya unfurled his range of strokes, smashing him for 18 runs.
He had trudged along to a comfortable half-century off 31 balls by the end of that over, barely taking any unwanted risks and his clean, crisp shots with neat intent meant India were in the run-chase, even if it didn't feel like it despite losing the cream of their top-order. That's not something you can always say of Indian sides sans MS Dhoni.
'Top-order gone, India gone' should have been a phrase coined back in 2017 in England in that Champions Trophy. Here, they had Dhawan, but it was Pandya driving the run-chase and with every ball, you could sense that he completely belonged to the side even as a pure batsman.
He couldn't take India over the line. He couldn't get past three figures. But, today, unlike most days of Pandya in the Indian side, he was seen as a pure batsman who could stand on his own. The knowledge that he can contribute 10 overs when fully fit makes Pandya's efforts a much-needed relief for India after a hurtful loss in their inaugural World Cup Super League game.
Feature image courtesy: AFP / David Gray