Hardik Pandya’s contribution of 46(31) was crucial in India’s victory against South Africa on Friday, leveling the series at 2-2. On a pitch where the top-order batsmen had failed to get going, Pandya came in at number five and took his time to settle in, before accelerating alongside Dinesh Karthik and ensuring India could reach a strong finish at 169/6. India eventually folded South Africa to 87/9, registering a dominant 82-run victory.
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Pandya’s position in the batting order has received a lot of scrutiny from fans and pundits alike: for the longest time seen as a finisher due to his power-hitting ability and high strike-rates, he impressed mightily in the 2022 edition of the IPL, entering at 4 for the Gujarat Titans and leading his team to the trophy. Former India pacer Zaheer Khan, who worked with Pandya for several years at Mumbai Indians, argued that it is in that position where he would be most effective for the national team as well.
“He would like to be number four ideally. He does understand what the team requires and how he should mold his game. If you lose early wickets… that’s the situation he thrives upon,” said Zaheer on Cricbuzz. “Since this IPL, it is very visible that he is enjoying such a challenge. He is not looking rushed.”
While Pandya’s strike-rate this IPL was low by his standards, it was perfect for his team as they lifted the trophy after looking like the most well-balanced and complete side in the tournament. His ability to marshall the game in the middle overs allowed the likes of David Miller and Rahul Tewatia to then enter the game and freely play the attacking style of cricket for which they had been bought.
Zaheer thinks that Hardik’s ability to rapidly catch up with the strike-rate while building innings is his strongest skill. “As a batter, if you feel that ‘I am in control and I can change the gears any time I require’, that’s when you get that confidence.”
Hardik had only scored 10 runs off his first 15 balls on a pitch that had slowed down even the ultra-attacking Rishabh Pant, but Hardik proved his worth by hitting Tabraiz Shamsi for back-to-back sixes, setting his innings in motion and adding on 36 runs from his next 16 balls.
Zaheer thinks that having an option as multi-faceted and talented as Hardik is the recipe to India finding success in the shortest form of the game. “When you lose early wickets as a team, you need a temperament like that. Someone who is assured of his ability, but also absorbs pressure which means slowing down. So, if he can maintain this form and bowl, then that’s the best thing for maintaining team’s balance. So. Rahul Dravid will be very happy and the Indian team management will be very happy.”
Hardik Pandya will look to have a telling contribution with both bat and ball in the decisive T20I against South Africa, before he leads a touring team to Ireland for two matches as captain, where he will look to cement his place in the T20I XI for the World Cup in Australia later this year.