There was an interesting moment early on during the third one-day international between India and New Zealand in Mount Maunganui on Monday. After a push from Ross Taylor in the eighth over of the innings, the ball went to Hardik Pandya, fielding at mid-wicket. The batsman had completed the quick single when Pandya had a pop at the stumps like most modern cricketers do. After a futile direct hit, the ball deflected off the stumps and rolled towards Ambati Rayudu at mid-off but before he could mop it up, Pandya had come running over to the off-side from midwicket, slid a few feet in front of Rayudu and mopped things up, to avoid an overthrow.
It was as if Pandya was keen on rectifying his own error in judgement. It seemed rather fitting, given the circumstances of his return.
And if his performance overall at the Bay Oval, during yet another comprehensive win for India, was anything to go by, Pandya sent a reminder as to how useful a cricketer he is to the Indian side when he gives it his all on the field.
All eyes on Pandya
It was understandable that a lot of eyes would be on Pandya when Virat Kohli confirmed at the toss that the all-rounder will make his comeback to the Indian side. He was playing for India for the first time since the Asia Cup in September — a near four-month break from the game due to a combination of injury and controversy.
But having been recalled to the Indian side in the middle of the ongoing series, the think-tank wasted no time in throwing him into the deep end.
His first major contribution was one of real significance. Chances are that, by now, you would have seen the stunning catch he took at mid-wicket to dismiss Kane Williamson. He flung himself to his left, dived full length, got both hands to a well-timed on-drive by the New Zealand captain. He completed the catch, picked himself up and joined his teammates in muted celebration.
But even before that superb display of athleticism, in the previous over, Pandya had sown the seeds for that dismissal with the ball in his hand. A series of dot balls had made the usually unflappable Williamson kick the turf and throw his arms around in frustration. That translated into the mistake that he made in the next over off Yuzvendra Chahal’s bowling.
Pandya’s first spell of bowling saw him return figures of 0/9 after five overs during which he was seen getting advice from Mohammed Shami at mid-off, possibly because he was still catching up with the team’s bowling plans, having landed in New Zealand only recently. That spell saw him hit speeds of 130-135 kph consistently, while sticking to a nagging line and length, and by now he had already contributed more to the team’s cause than Vijay Shankar, his replacement, managed to or was given the chance to, for that matter.
A useful option
After going for a few runs in his second spell, when Taylor and Tom Latham were stitching together the best partnership of the series for New Zealand, he returned to make a telling impact. With Kuldeep Yadav going wicket-less, Kohli turned to Pandya to bowl overs 40, 42 and 44 — a period where he usually employs his ace wrist-spinner. And Pandya responded with the wickets of Henry Nicholls (with a slower bouncer, making the most of a slower track) and Mitchell Santner (a wide off-cutter that took the outside edge).
Where Shankar bowled 12 overs in three matches combined, Pandya returned to bowl the maximum-possible in his first match. While it is no reflection of the Tamil Nadu all-rounder’s quality, it does speak volumes about the trust Kohli places in Pandya when it comes to executing his plans.
“It’s very, very good to have Hardik back. He is someone who provides a lot of balance to the team. And the way he bowled today showed he went back and practiced his skills,” Kohli said after the match. “He put his head down and focussed on what he needed to do and you could tell from the way he bowled with intensity straightaway, picking two crucial wickets at that stage.
“He’s someone who will give you those important contributions in all three departments and that’s something any team would want to have and when he comes in, the team looks a lot more balanced. It’s good to have him back in the right headspace and the right kind of mindset to perform for the team and I hope he can keep growing with this performance,” the Indian captain added.
Without overstating his impact, Pandya showed what he does provide this Indian team with in ODIs, when he is a part of it. India did not wrap up the series 3-0 in Mount Maunganui because of his comeback, but he sure showed the quality he brings to this side when he is up for it on a cricket field.