Hardik Pandya is not unfamiliar with astonishing elevations in life. When he made it to the Indian team for the first time in 2016, it wasn’t on the back of loads of runs and wickets in first-class cricket, which is the usual and obvious route for any budding cricketer.
Also Read: From US $2.55B to $6.2B Behemoth, The IPL Has Taken a Giant Leap
However, Pandya was always seen as being different. He had that spark, the X factor- if you want to use the sporting cliché. Forget the great Kapil Dev, Team India was not able to find anyone who was even closer to Irfan Pathan or even an Ajit Agarkar (who was neither consistent nor a match winner either with bat or ball). The desperation for a seam-bowling allrounder by the selectors made Pandya’s entry into the white ball team far easier.
And, when Virat Kohli was looking for a five-pronged attack in Test cricket, Pandya fulfilled that role as he could be more than handy with the bat (remember his fiery 90 odd in South Africa in 2018?).
Even though the Baroda allrounder’s number are not Ben Stokesque as yet, he still is a marvellous asset for the Indian team whose inclusion in the playing XI provided a tremendous flexibility to any captain.
Now, Pandya himself is the captain for India’s next international assignment (two T20Is in Ireland) ahead of Rishabh Pant who led the team in the recently concluded five-match T20 series against South Africa at home. Of course, one can argue that since Pant is being rested for the Birmingham Test (starting 1st July), the selectors didn’t want to burden him with addition responsibility of captaincy. It is now possible that Pandya may continue to lead in the series against England (3 T20s after the solitary Test). Not that Pant is likely to be rested again for the shortest format but he may simply play purely as a wicketkeeper-batter.
Also Read: ‘Bradmanesque’ Joe Root World’s Best Test Batter by a Country Mile
Pant can consider himself lucky that despite his poor to average captaincy against South Africa, India didn’t lose the series at home. One cannot disagree with the head coach Rahul Dravid’s assessment that the Delhi batter’s captaincy must not be judged by the result of one series alone. This is a fair argument not just for Pant but for any young captain.
However, the stars are aligning in such a way that it looks apparent that if anyone who is going to succeed Rohit Sharma as captain in the near future, it has to be his former Mumbai Indians’ teammate Pandya. The 28-year-old has taken to captaincy like the proverbial duck to water.
While Pandya as batter and bowler was incredibly consistent in the IPL 2022, his tactical moves earn plaudits from the seasoned observers. Of course, critics can always argue that much shouldn’t be read into that as most of the IPL captains are assisted by plethora of assistant coaches along with countless members of the support staff in each squad. And yet, it is hard to ignore Pandya’s stunning success in maiden stint as captain of an IPL team and that too with a brand-new franchise.
Pant has been leading Delhi Capitals for the last two years and he has Ricky Ponting for company as head coach while Ashish Nehra (Gujarat Titans coach), despite all his wisdom and tactical acumen, will be the first one to admit that he is nowhere near Ponting whose CV as captain is extraordinary.
The long-term prospect of Pandya leading the Indian team is also improving because of Pant’s struggle in white ball formats. As Dravid himself said that Pant would not be too happy with his recent forms in white-ball cricket but the fact is that the youngster has never looked at ease or has looked at his domineering best which is the case with him in Test cricket.
Pant has just started establishing himself as a fine wicketkeeper and the next challenge for him is to make his place beyond debate in limited-overs cricket now. He already has too many challengers in the form of Ishan Kishan, Sanju Samson, Dinesh Karthik or even KL Rahul for that dual role he plays. What is the need to distract him even further by giving him either regular vice-captain role or stand-in captain whenever Rohit is not available?
Contrastingly, it works wonder in case of someone like Pandya who like MS Dhoni has surprised everyone with his calm demeanour while curbing his natural game and playing according to the demands of the situation and requirements of his team.
In Pandya, India now have a middle-order batter who can hold the innings at no 4 like Virat Kohli in any format and can go berserk like the typical Pandya in slog-overs.
Moreover, Pandya seems to have evolved as a player and one can sense this from his interactions with his teammates who were part of the Gujarat Titans, the winner of IPL 2022.
His leadership is deeply influenced by the Dhoni school of calmness and perhaps can be the ideal continuation once Rohit moves on. For all his aggressive and bold posturing, the fact is that Kohli didn’t manage to win either a major silver or even an IPL title. The virtue of calmness as an international captain can’t be overstated now and Pandya fits the bill perfectly.
This of course is not to suggest that Pant can’t be a fine captain in future. In fact, the trio of Pant-Pandya-Rahul sharing the captaincy responsibilities is not something you should rule out. It may sound ridiculous at this point, however, remember when nearly two decades back when split captaincy was considered for Test and ODI formats in Australia, even the great Steve Waugh was bemused too.
India are fortunate to be blessed with so many talented cricketers across formats and additionally, have several fine options to choose from for the most difficult job in cricket.
Get all the latest updates on Cricket News, Cricket Photos, Cricket Videos and Cricket Scores here