It was in Adelaide about two years ago that Indian cricket fans first got a glimpse of all-rounder Hardik Pandya. India were facing Australia in a T20I. The lanky Baroda lad impressed almost immediately with a wicket maiden during his spell with the ball. India had suddenly unearthed a player with the X-factor, and a knack of picking up wickets or scoring vital runs at crucial moments.
In Kolkata on Sunday, Hardik’s brother Krunal Pandya managed to make a similar impact on his debut. The older of the two siblings, Krunal returned figures of 1/15 from his four overs. Just like his brother did in 2016, he too registered a wicket-maiden in his second over on debut.
There was one incident during the match that stuck out, when Krunal dismissed his Mumbai Indians teammate Keiron Pollard, who was well-settled, and had begun swinging his arms and taking the attack to the Indian bowlers.
It was a crucial juncture in the match. West Indies had lost their top-order cheaply. Pollard, arguably the biggest star among the touring outfit, had showed his intent by smashing Krunal for a six. The signs were ominous. He was in the mood and threatening to change the complexion of the game.
“Krunal was the one who told me, ‘I want to bowl to Pollard,’ and got him out,” skipper Rohit Sharma revealed in the post-match presentation. Rohit gave Krunal another over despite the six. The bowler repaid his captain’s faith almost immediately as he tempted the burly West Indian into mistiming a lofted shot, which was duly pocketed at long on by Manish Pandey.
West Indies lost their most valuable player with half their innings still left. They had wanted to keep Pollard around and rally around the lower-order and tail, which was fairly young and inexperienced.
Krunal is not a new figure in Indian cricket. The importance of his contribution in Mumbai Indians’ success over the years in the Indian Premier League has been well-established. So, it was no surprise that the left-arm orthodox bowler called on his India captain Rohit, who has also been his leader in the franchise-based league. Pollard, a Mumbai Indians stalwart himself, was not new to Krunal. The duo must have spent quite some time together facing each other in the nets.
It was Krunal who took the bragging rights in this game as he sent of the Trinidadian with a flying kiss after the batsman had holed out. “That was my love for Pollard,” Krunal would say after the game.
Pollard’s departure knocked the stuffing out of the visitors who would manage to set India a modest target of 110 to chase.
Krunal would return to make another vital contribution with the bat. He scored an unbeaten 21 off nine deliveries and provided able support to Dinesh Karthik (31 not out), and took India across the line after an uncharacteristically wobbly start by the team’s top-order.
“I wait for pressure situations and I want tough situations so that I can be a hero. I love it. No butterflies at all,” Krunal said after the game. It was a fine display of fearless cricket, a brand of the game that his brother has owned since that fateful day in Adelaide.
With brother Hardik out through injury, India needed an all-rounder to bring balance to the side. The team had struggled to find this combination in the first couple of ODIs against the West Indies. Hardik and Kedar Jadhav were both laid low with ailments. India would have been wary of a similar occurrence in the T20Is. However, Krunal rose to the occasion, contributing crucially with the bat and ball on debut. It was an impressive start to what could be a long stint with the national team.