It shaped away. It was wide. It was outside the wide line. It was a ball that meant no harm. It should have been bowled again. It should have fetched India a bonus run.
Instead, Hardik Pandya launched a scathing attack on the Alzarri Joseph delivery in the first One-Day International against West Indies on Sunday. He intended to bludgeon the ball over cover. But his hands and feet lost coordination in the bid to meet the delivery that was galaxies away.
Pandya’s eyes, which had been transfixed to his right in search of a spot to dispatch the ball to, were now closed. His body was in a tangle. He reached a ball he never should have. But alas, only the outside edge of his bat met the ball. The power on the bat swing carried the ball to the boundary but the edge meant it was flown to not where it was intended to land.
Crash-landing to earth
Miguel Cummins at the third man fence completed the catch despite the serendipitous glee that he was overwhelmed with because of the unlikelihood of the ball reaching him in the first place. At the end of it, Cummins and Joseph had smiles of relief because they had managed a coup. They had sent Pandya back to the Queen’s Park Oval pavilion.
This was the fifth delivery Pandya had faced. He, however, should not have faced more than one. He had feathered the first delivery he faced, in the same over, to the ’keeper Shai Hope. But it was a day of painful no-balls for the West Indies. And, this delivery was the one that could have hurt most.
Joseph had overstepped. The umpires ordered Pandya to abort his walk back to the pavilion and resume his innings. Fresh from his blitzkrieg in the Champions Trophy final, Pandya should have murdered the West Indian attack after the reprieve. But it was not to be on Sunday.
On Sunday, fortunately for the hosts, Pandya had carried the self-destruct button along. The next ball after a batsman has earned a life is usually the least eventful. He is yet to overcome the drama of the previous delivery, which he has survived. Not Pandya. He had drama in his blood that day.
Power over precision
The Indian all-rounder cleared his front leg and chased a full and wide delivery. But he failed to reach it, the middle of his bat not close to the ball. All he could manage was to scoop it aerially over point.
For the next two balls, Pandya’s drama continued. After finding third man off the next delivery, he once again went for power over precision on his fourth delivery. In the process, the tail-end of his bat was all he could manage to get to the ball. And, by the time the fifth ball was upon him, his drama had reached boiling point. Boom. It combusted. And, Pandya was gone.
In the five balls that Pandya had faced, he could have come out of it with either gold or dust. There was no modest option. By the time his whirlwind attempts were stalled, India still had another eight overs to deal with.
License to hit
Pandya had been promoted over Yuvraj Singh and MS Dhoni, the more seasoned men with the willow. Along with the promotion, he had also carried with him the license to unleash an unadulterated assault on the West Indians.
But his failure meant India had earned little from the move. Fortunately for the visitors, it did not harm them. The inexperience in the West Indian outfit could not capitalise on the window of opportunity Pandya had left ajar. But, if a similar tactic goes kaput against a stronger team, the team could slip into rough waters.
At the same time, if the Pandya of Sunday comes off, he can blow the game away from the reach of the opponents. The glitch is that the chances of the Pandya of Sunday crash-landing are superior to that of him soaring.
The game, and one-day cricket in particular, has harvested a breed of ball-murdering all-rounders. Within these men with an affinity toward the monster hits, there are two types. The likes of Shahid Afridi and James Faulkner who seem to walk out with the only intention to destroy the leather, while the likes of Lance Klusner and Ben Stokes allow themselves a few minutes to settle down before they crush their opponents irreparably.
The measured assault in the CT final
The Pandya of Sunday belonged to the former category. And like their inconsistent record, despite their ability to ruthlessly destroy their opponents, the Indian all-rounder could not be the nightmare the West Indians were worried about.
But the Pandya of the Sunday from a week ago, from the Champions Trophy final against Pakistan, belonged to the latter category. He allowed himself 29 deliveries before he cracked three sixes and a boundary off Shadab Khan to announce his decision to wage a lone battle.
His teammates, even top-ranked Virat Kohli, had had no answer to Pakistan’s bowlers. Yet once Pandya had played himself in and then unchained the ball-killing monster from within, India found hope where there was none. The target may have always remained too steep for India to triumph, but the Pandya show could have taken India closer had it not been for a mindless refusal of a run from Ravindra Jadeja.
But that innings in the summit clash was a strong indication that Pandya could be the x-factor that the Indian one-day team has long craved. How Kohli and team decide to use him could determine the kind of impact he has over the next couple of years with an eye on the 2019 World Cup in England.
The more time Pandya spends at the crease, the better he will become as a batsman. If India want him to exploit his batting potential completely, he will be better advised to play the way he did against Pakistan. While the decision to go slam-bang from ball one, like he attempted to against Jason Holder’s team, may pay off, it is likelier to meet a dead end.
Pandya is just 23. He has played a mere 14 ODIs till date. Like any other youngster, his career is waiting to take shape. What shape it eventually takes will depend on who the team sees in him – Afridi and Faulkner or Klusener and Stokes.