There is an infectious energy to Hardik Pandya. When he is on the field, it is hard to move your eyes away from him – he is quick to the ball, he can smash the ball to all parts and can turn in the odd winning performance with the ball too. He attracts attention to himself by sheer force of personality. Not that he is trying to but he just seems to be built this way.
But with his performances in the 2017 edition of the Indian Premier League, Krunal has probably inched ahead of his brother in the eyes of many cricket fans. Where Hardik is manic, Krunal is calm, where Hardik will not change his approach, Krunal will adapt; where Hardik is inconsistent, Krunal can be counted upon.
His innings against the Rising Pune Supergiant in the final on Sunday was a classic example of Krunal rising to the occasion without much fuss and he has done that all season for Mumbai. If 2015 was Hardik’s breakthrough year, then you can be pretty sure that 2017 will be remembered as the year when Krunal made his mark.
By the time Krunal came in to bat, Mumbai Indians were already in big touble. Parthiv Patel, Lendl Simmons, Ambati Rayudu and Rohit Sharma were all back in the hut with the total on 56. Things got worse when Pollard was dismissed with just 65 on board.
A lesser batsman might have succumbed and gone for the big shots, but Krunal quickly figured out that he needed to find a way to stay in the middle.
“When wickets were falling at other end, I just wanted to play 20 overs, because I was the only batsman and I knew if I stayed till the end, I could attack,” Krunal later said.
By the time, Krunal had a chance to pause and take stock of the situation, Mumbai were reduced to 7-79 and it looked even getting to a respectable score would be a fight. But with Mahendra Singh Dhoni watching from the keepers position, the senior Pandya displayed smarts that would have done the former India skipper proud.
He farmed the strike and waited to cash in on the bad balls. He stayed there till the end – much in the way, the Dhoni of old would – and made his time in the middle count. In doing so, he gave his team a fighting chance and as Mumbai showed, sometimes that is all it takes.
The numbers show how Krunal has improved his performance over last season and also how MI skipper Rohit Sharma has come to trust him. He has often been pushed up the order ahead of Kieron Pollard and Hardik to steady things and his bowling has been economical (ER of 6.82) yet deadly (10 wickets).
In fact, he outshone his younger brother on a consistent basis and that’s something when you consider how Hardik has already made it to the Indian team. Hardik had a middling season – 17 matches, 250 runs at 35.71, 6 wickets @ 54.20 while hardly ever getting to bowl his full quota of overs. Compared to him, Krunal really stood out – 13 matches, 243 runs at 34.71, 10 wickets @ 31.81.
“Individual brilliance can win you a few games, but what is required to win this championship is team unity, team work and intelligence,” said Rohit Sharma after the game.
Intelligence being the key that brings everything else together and Krunal showed that by putting the team ahead of self several times during the campaign. His awareness of the match situation is something that can help him go a long way in international cricket too.
“Krunal has become mature now. Last year, he was nervous to start with. Now he knows he is a core member of the squad. He just goes out and plays freely. He’s got no pressure,” Sharma added.
Hardik had the advantage of being a pace bowling all-rounder. India rarely come across the kind and the selectors have taken him into the India fold quickly. For Krunal, competition comes in the form of Ravindra Jadeja, who is among the best all-rounders in world cricket and that makes breaking into the Indian team more difficult. But it only means that Jadeja can’t afford to slip up.
In a certain sense, Krunal’s performances in IPL 10 should mean that India have an alternative of sorts to Jadeja, who has the clear edge in the fielding department but in the batting and bowling departments it is much tighter.
Jadeja’s T20I batting average is just 8.58 (also a reflection of his position in the batting order) but it means that Krunal’s ability to adapt to an aggressive or dormant role really can come in handy. As bowlers, there isn’t much to choose between them either but you’d probably give the advantage to Jadeha based on his performances for India over the last few years.
But if Jadeja’s levels drop or if the selectors decide to give him a rest, Krunal has shown that he will definitely be up for the challenge. Not just that, he might even make it difficult for Jadeja to get back in.