The temptation is always there. If you can play the big shots, the urge to slam every ball out of the park can sometimes make you do stupid things. You can try and hit your way out of trouble all the time. After all, if you make enough of a case, you can always say that you were only playing your natural game.
That is exactly why as Hardik Pandya walked in to bat with India struggling at 87/5 in the first One-Day International against Australia in Chennai – a score which represented a recovery of sorts given that the hosts were reduced to 11/3 in the early going – the feeling was that the all-rounder was going to going to go for broke as he usually does. Yes, in the recent past, we have seen him play sensibly but hey, haven’t we seen Ravindra Jadeja do that from time to time as well.
The wicket looked a little two-paced. The Aussies seemed to have a plan in place for every batsman. Rohit Sharma and Kedar Khadhav had fallen to the short ball and given that Pandya likes the hook shot as well, he was clearly going to get the treatment. Would he keep his calm through that barrage? Would he stand with Mahendra Singh Dhoni? Would he help India recover?
The second ball to Pandya was a short one – you could see it in his eyes, he was tempted but it was too high and the umpires called it a wide. Dhoni walked down, had a word and then walked back. It was crucial that Pandya stayed in the middle.
Zampa came in and bowled one over. Pandya got two balls – got 1 run out of it. Then, it was back to Stoinis – the allrounder who impressed in the tour game. He isn’t express but he has a good bouncer. Dhoni took a three off the second ball and Pandya got the strike.
The third ball was hit to mid-off with no movement of the feet. All hands. No feet. The ball was in the air for a moment but there was no danger. The fourth ball swings away and Pandya is beaten – once again… all hands, no feet. For a big-hitter like Pandya just hits and misses can be frustrating. It is one thing to miss while going for a big shot and quite another to be beaten while trying to do the sensible thing. How would he respond?
Stoinis would have noticed as well – Pandya was itching to break free. The fifth ball was dug in. It seamed in, close to the batsman, giving him little room to do anything. But the 23-year-old calmly allowed the ball to come close to him and then used his bat like a ramp to guide the ball over the wicket-keeper and to the boundary line. The shot is anything but easy but it showed that he kept his eye on the ball till the last possible moment. It also seemed to break Pandya out of his trance.
“The pressure was always there and they were on top. It was important to give myself some time and build a partnership with MSD,” said Pandya at the innings break. “I have learnt a lot from him (Dhoni) — we were talking about staying in the middle and building a partnership.”
His approach in the early going showed that he could see the big picture. That didn’t mean he was going to cower down and not play his shots. It just meant that he was going to be sensible while doing it. He made his way to 20 off 21 balls with just one more boundary shot.
Then, Adam Zampa, at long last, is brought back into the attack. Pandya has a look at him and plays out a couple of overs without trying anything rash. Then, the 37th over begins. The leg-spinner’s bowling figures at this stage read: 7-0-28-0.
Dhoni takes a single off the first ball and Pandya (35 off 45 balls at this stage) gets the strike.
The big over
The first ball he faces from Zampa is hit straight over the head off the very straight mid-on. It just about clears him. Pandya didn’t get the elevation right on this one but he did get four runs. A few practice swings follow. Then, it is time for third ball – it is once again tossed up and on the middle stump. The right-hander gets under it and hit it high over long-off. It hits the roof.
Here we go.
In the commentary box, Michael Clarke is urging Zampa to give it more flight. To not be afraid. Indeed, the leg-spinner isn’t. But then neither is Pandya.
The fourth ball is floated up. Pandya accepts the challenge with glee and dispatches it over the fence with consummate ease. He isn’t smiling though. He is trying to stay focused. India are 159/5 and far from comfortable.
The fifth ball is quicker and flatter. Zampa has had enough of being tonked around but Pandya is expecting it. He simply clears the front leg hits it straight over the bowler’s head for another six.
Before Pandya got into the act, the last Indian to hit a hat-trick of sixes was Zaheer Khan (16 years ago against Zimbabwe). Now, Pandya seems to do it in every little match. See where we get the big shot player bit from?
But perhaps his best shot was the one he played off the last ball. He took a single.
“I have always known that Hardik Pandya could hit a boundary but didn’t believe he had the discipline to rotate the strike after that,” said Clarke in the television commentary.
Theory can play a huge part in cricket. You plan for batsmen, you come up with bowling strategies, and you discuss and debate. But the experience of guiding your team out of trouble while batting with Dhoni or Kohli will imbibe all those lessons into your body and soul. These are the transformative experiences that mould athletes. That Pandya could do it without compromising on his own individual style speaks volumes for his cricket smarts.
When Pandya begun his onslaught, Dhoni was on 28 and Pandya, himself, was on 35. When Pandya was eventually dismissed for 83 off 66 balls, Dhoni had reached 37. The former India skipper had smartly turned over as much strike to the big-hitter and perhaps that is a lesson that Pandya will, one day, learn as well.
For now, though, his rapid progress as a batsman and as a bowler can only augur well for India. We have seen many shirk away from the allrounder tag but Pandya has been much more accepting – a quality that showcases his confidence and perhaps the same quality that is slowly making believers of us all.
As Virat Kohli put it after the game: “We believe in him but he believes in himself. So important. It was the game-changing innings.”
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