Mumbai: “I am using lots of brain when bowling. So, when I am batting it helps me think as a bowler, and vice-versa.” That’s Hardik Pandya articulating the simplicity of his all-round success after the T20 series win against England. Using his intuition as a bowler to second guess what will come next while taking strike yet thinking like a batsman; straightforward or not, it’s Pandya’s secret recipe. Far too many all-rounders have lost their way trying to figure out whether they are a better batsman or bowler.
Skipper Virat Kohli has missed Pandya the all-rounder the most in recent times. Not once across formats since resumption of cricket has India been able to field their best playing eleven. They have withstood intense competition on the strength of their reserves. Kohli realised how handicapped he was in the ODIs in Australia last November when his fifth bowler was under the pump and he didn’t have a reserve bowler among the top six to turn to.
He had Pandya in the team but only as a batsman; he couldn’t bowl him due to workload management. When Steve Smith and Glenn Maxwell began wielding their bats in the second ODI, a helpless Kohli broke the injury management code and got Pandya to bowl four overs. But that’s how far he could go. Pandya the bowler, on the mend following a back surgery, wasn’t ready then. He is now.
In each of the five T20 matches against England, Pandya bowled his full quota of overs. He bowled the second over in the last two matches. In taking 2/16 in the fourth match, Pandya rung in off-cutters when conditions called for slowing down pace, playing a big role in India bucking the trend of teams failing to defend totals.
He scored 86 at 140.98 batting down the order, but Pandya’s telling contribution came in bowling. His economy rate of 6.94 was one of only two sub-7s—Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s economy of 6.38 ending up as the best across both sides. That bowling impact is what India had missed for months.
The Baroda all-rounder who began his international career with a 11-ball over, conceding 19 runs, has come a long way since. Some of his back-breaking spells may have pushed him to injury rehab, but he is back again with a “fine-tuned action” that has a less prominent jump in delivery stride. “…the next six to eight months he’s promised he’s going to commit everything to be the all-rounder the team needs in all three formats,” Kohli said during the T20 series. “He plays for the team at all times and these kind of players are priceless.”
Priceless he will be for Kohli’s plans with three white-ball World Cups to come in three consecutive years. If he can maintain the bowling form he showed in the England T20Is, and the batting form he displayed in the white-ball series in Australia, Pandya adds up to be the match-winner a captain craves for. Playing as a batsman in the ODIs in Australia, he scored two high quality 90s at a strike rate of 114.75. In both the innings, the T20 power-hitter toned down into one who backed his defence to play a long innings, even while not really giving up scoring through his trusted hitting methods.
With ball in hand in ODI cricket, Pandya delivers, on an average, seven overs a match. That’s 70 percent of workload of the fifth bowler. In the upcoming series, even if India chose to use him with more care, he may have elder brother Krunal to share the fifth bowler’s duties with. Krunal, who shone as an all-rounder in the recent Vijay Hazare Trophy one-day tournament (388 runs, 5 wickets in 5 games), has been drafted back into the Indian team as a like-for-like replacement for Ravindra Jadeja.