Hardik Pandya
Hardik PandyaBCCI Twitter account

Why Rohit Sharma says Hardik Pandya is crucial to India’s World Cup campaign?

Colombo, 6th September, 2023

Rohit Sharma picked out Hardik Pandya from the 15-member Indian squad for the ICC Cricket World Cup and described the value the vibrant cricketer brings in as a quality batsman and bowler in glowing terms. The India skipper made no bones in saying that Pandya’s contribution with the bat and ball will matter most to India’s fortunes in the global event that gets off the ground with the opening match against five- time winner Australia at the MA Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai on October 8.

Sharma who was miffed at missing the high drama of the 2011 World Cup that India won defeating Sri Lanka at the Wankhede Stadium is overly keen and eager to lay his hands on a major ICC title. He was part of the inaugural Twenty20 World Cup winning Indian team in 2007 though when Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s team defeated Pakistan in a cliff hanger finish at `The Wanderers’ in Johannesburg, South Africa, but it’s the 50 over title he is coveting for.

At the media conference here on Tuesday when the Indian team was announced at Pallekele, he stated that the aim would be to play to the best of its ability. But beneath the calm exterior, one could discern that he and the team could be mean during the nine league matches before the knock-out.

When asked about the Pandya’s return to competitive cricket from the 2022 IPL, Sharma said: ``You saw his quality in the last game against Pakistan (in the first Asia Cup match at the Pallekele Interbnational Cricket Stadium). Ishan (Kishan) and Hardik put their hands up and scored well (they put on a 138 run roaring stand for the fifth wicket). Obviously with bowling too he’s great. He has bowled well in the last year and a half for us. His form will be crucial to us. He’s a guy who does both the things, and that’s important. The way he batted in the last game showed that he has a very mature head on his shoulders. These are good qualities of good batters. In the last year or so he has come up with the bat and his bowling has been good too. That’s important for us.”

Sharma knows a bit and more about Pandya. Even with Kieron Pollard in the mix, the Baroda dynamite made his presence felt scoring 1476 runs in 92 IPL matches for Mumbai Indians and took 42 wickets and was part of Sharma’s IPL winning team for four seasons. He also took 53 catches for MI. And when he left the MI ranks and led Gujarat Titans to a title win in 2022 defeating Rajasthan Royals, the world took notice of his real potential and applauded his leadership role, bringing in a variety that placed freedom to each and every player in the team. He played a big part in the Titans’ win with the bat and ball and won the man of the match award. He made 34 and took three wickets.

Playing for MI fast tracked him into the Indian team. Handpicked by the present Head Coach of the Indian team team, Rahul Dravid, Pandya was shaping well across all formats before a spin related ailment rendered him out of action for many months. He has already played 78 ODIs for India, featuring in 53 wins. Dravid saw an explosive knock for India `A’ against Australia `A’ and Dravid was quick to spot the natural talent. Pandya has always been backed by the Indian team which went to extent of playing him as a specialist batsman in the ICC Twenty20 World Cup in the winter of 2021 in the United Arab Emirates.

The entire cricket world went after him after the debacle in the ICC World Twenty20 in the UAE. Whether he was rested or dropped is a matter of conjecture from the home series against New Zealand, but the realisation dawned upon him that he has to restore his health in order to be looked at by the selection committee. The shift from MI to GT helped him and one and all was happy that he staged a comeback in the home series against Sri Lanka at Guwahati. He has made 367 runs off 378 balls at 5.83 an over with three 50s. He has also led India in three matches; two during the recent tour of the West Indies when Sharma chose to sit out.

The Asia Cup match against Pakistan was a litmus test for many Indian batsmen, and Pandya grabbed the chance with both hands giving the treatment to Pakistan spinners Shadab Khan (leg spinner) and Mohammed Nawaz (left arm spinner) and also dealt with the rival pacers adequately well to score a pleasing 90 ball 87 with 7 x 4s and 1 x 6.

Pandya has bowled 10 overs only in 18 innings and the last time he sent down ten overs was in the 2019 World Cup match against New Zealand at Old Trafford. He took 1 for 55. And so it has been four years and more since he bowled his full quota. It’s unlikely that he will do that anytime soon what with players like him to be monitored for workload in the remaining part of the Asia Cup, the three match home series against Australia and the World Cup.

Pandya has been India’s best all-rounder ever since he made his debut. Always a robust performer with the bat and ball and in the field, Pandya will be as Sharma said ``crucial’’ to India’s chances of winning the World Cup for the third time. Pandya averages 34 with the bat in home conditions and taken 30 wickets, conceding 5.85 an over. It will be a World Cup that each and every member of the Indian team would covet for; Hardik will be ready to play out of his skin.


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