Equipped with some of the big guns, the man chosen to lead the 17-man Indian squad for this tour is, Hardik Pandya, who until recently struggled with bowling, wasn’t quite effective with the bat, and then found himself on the sidelines with nagging low back pain. It’s something that has plagued him for a long time. He underwent back surgery in London in 2019, before the injury haunted him again.
That’s why in IPL 2022, when the Gujarat Titans named him as their captain after bringing him on board as a pre-auction signing, there were more than a few raised eyebrows. How effective would Hardik be in taking on the captaincy responsibilities? Was it the right decision to name him captain of a debutant IPL team, which would like to make a mark in their first season? Could he bowl? Hardik had an answer to every one of those questions and more. What we saw in IPL 2022 was Hardik 2.0. A calmer, more focused version of the highly talented all-rounder, who took the lead like a fish in water.
Hardik Pandya (Image credit: BCCI/IPL)
He bowled, he was the lead runner for the Gujarat Titans and brought his forces together so well that the Titans finished the season as champions.
Former cricketer in India Saba Karimwho was also the BCCI General Manager of Cricket Operations and was a national selector at the Times of India’s sports podcast Sportscast and spoke about the changes he has seen in Hardik and what impressed him about the all-rounder and now captain of India.
“I think what has struck me in Hardik Pandya is the lessons he has absorbed from being an international cricketer over the past 4-5 years. If I recall correctly he made his debut in 2015-16 (Jan 2016 in a T20I vs Australia in Adelaide) when I was on the selection committee and since then he has grown not only as a person but as a cricketer and it seemed insisted it had gotten to the point where he really had to reinvent his lifestyle to become a more mature cricketer and it showed in this season’s IPL. And that’s remarkable – it’s not easy for athletes to do that at that level. They tend to follow a certain kind of lifestyle and discipline. It is not easy for them to incorporate new things into their character, but Hardik Pandya has managed to do that. If you can exercise your mind in a very positive way and in a very disciplined way, the rest becomes very easy. I believe that the change we noticed on the pitch for Gujarat Titans, the change actually started with the captain. And that’s why he made his whole stay such a great success for Gujarat Titans.” Saba Karim went on to say TOI sports broadcast.
Saba Karim (Image credit: Twitter)
What has become clear about Hardik, from what we saw in IPL 2022, is the work he has put in behind the scenes, both in the physical and mental aspects of his game. As captain, Hardik was calm, never seemed to be paralyzed by a match situation. The somewhat aggressive streak that popped up every now and then had given way to a more balanced person, who came across as a thinking captain. His all-round abilities were never in question, but when he captained the Titans, it was his mental strength and clarity of mind that really showed. He managed to weave a tight-knit unity into the Gujarat Titans and the players seemed to thrive in the team atmosphere created by the captaincy and team management. The whole squad performed as one unit and that was one of the hallmarks of their IPL triumph this season.
For Hardik personally it was a kind of redemption. Branded as one of the villains of India’s disastrous T20 World Cup in the latest edition, where India failed to reach the semi-finals and also lost to Pakistan for the first time in a World Cup, a semi-fit Hardik, who was trolled mercilessly on social media media, decided it was time to take a break and work on his physical fitness, become a more mature cricketer and get stronger mentally. The selectors also knew that if Hardik couldn’t bowl, he wouldn’t fit into the team composition.
However, thanks to what the selectors saw in the IPL this season, Hardik was brought back to the Indian set-up for the home T20I series vs South Africa, where he finished as the second-highest finisher for India, with 117 runs in 4 innings, averaging 58.50 and hitting 153.94.
Hardik Pandya (AFP photo)
It was clear that Hardik seemed to have learned quite a few lessons from standing on the sidelines.
“I do believe that these are all life experiences. He started to appreciate the fact that he is such an exceptional cricketer and that he cannot take things for granted. He realized that in the end he has to take care of his fitness, work on his skills – make sure that he is always ahead of the opponent. I also feel there is no hard and fast rule to lead a side as all individuals are different and the fact that you should stay what you are instead of trying to imitate others which may not prove successful to be. And I think Hardik Pandya although he spent a lot of time with MS Dhoni spent a lot of time with Virat Kohli he has his own kind of captaincy and the way he plays his cricket is so different from what Virat does or what MS Dhoni does . So you learn from so many great individuals who have been a part of the side, but in the end you bring your own leadership style onto the field and I think he did. I was quite impressed with the way he also dealt with the press, which is not easy to do and showed a lot of maturity. And that evoked feelings on the part (Gujarat Titans) in terms of inspiration, commitment and dedication.” Saba Karim continued on TOI sports broadcast.
Interestingly, Saba Karim was a national selector when Hardik was first picked to play for India. Hardik made his India debut in January 2016 while touring Australia in a T20I played in Adelaide. It was an Indian team with people like Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Shikhar Dhawan, MS Dhoni, Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina. Hardik didn’t get a chance to bat in that game, but he bowled three overs and scored 2-37, knocking Chris Lynn and Matthew Wade off the court. India won that match by 37 runs.
Hardik Pandya, Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni (AFP photo)
In his chat on TOI sports broadcastSaba, who can be seen as a TV pundit on India’s upcoming tour of Ireland, also spoke about what the selectors found most impressive about Hardik at the time.
“His all-round capabilities and his power-hitting capabilities. Those days we were looking for an all round batter, who can come in as 6th bowler and make some quick runs on number 5 or 6 and he was so well suited for that kind of role. He started that way and since then he has grown in reputation, he has grown in performance, he became a test match all-rounder, did quite well for India and then there was a setback in his career. But now it’s good to see him reviving and as I said he’s basically reinvented himself as a cricketer and as a person.”
Listen to the full episode of TOI Sportscast with Saba Karim HERE