Let us start with a simple statistic. In his 65-match career since 2014, Kedar Jadhav has bowled 187.5 overs in 39 innings. That comes down to roughly five overs per ODI. What’s of keen interest herein is that Jadhav’s bowling career didn’t begin until the 2016 home series against New Zealand – he didn’t bowl, at all, in the first seven ODIs he had played.
Coincidentally, that series’ opener in Dharamsala is remembered for the arrival of Hardik Pandya on the ODI scene. A green-top wicket, and the Black Caps inserted in, then-skipper MS Dhoni handed the debutant the new ball, who returned 3/31 in seven overs. They remain his best bowling figures in ODIs till date.
Now, sample this – Jadhav sent down 18 overs in that five-match series, Pandya bowled 26 overs. Considering they both didn’t bowl in the fifth ODI at Visakhapatnam, Jadhav-Pandya bowled 44 out of 193.3 overs India sent down in the first four matches. Unsurprisingly, that is just over one-fifth ratio, or the fifth bowler’s quota of 39 overs.
In a way, it established the base parameter for Indian strategy when the baton was passed onto Virat Kohli a few months later. Get a few overs off Pandya, and another few off Jadhav, and the fifth bowler’s quota was used up. It was the set mantra from that very moment.
Yes, Pandya and Jadhav share a buffer relationship when it comes to bowling out the fifth bowler’s quota in the 37 ODIs they have played together. It was necessitated because the former isn’t a natural fast bowler. It is a trade-skill that he picked up on his way to international limelight, and through sheer determination and hard work, made it work in his favour too. Of course, it took some time happening. This is where the 2017 Champions Trophy is a pertinent reference point.
In five matches during that tournament, Pandya bowled 39 overs, completing his quota on three occasions (one game was rain affected and had reduced overs). Jadhav shared the burden here too, bowling 12 overs, for a combined fifth bowler’s tally of 51 overs.
In terms of India’s bowling attack, that tournament was a seminal moment indeed. Kohli set up his frontline pace attack of Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, and the team management also introduced wrist spin as their potent middle overs’ formula. The only remaining element was the all-rounder – first, Pandya worked with Rahul Dravid during his India-A stint, who imbibed in him the need for a stronger physique to sustain the bowling load. Then, bowling coach Bharat Arun went to work on him, and the results were immediately forthcoming.
During his second Test in Colombo, Pandya used the slower ball to surprise the batsmen, and even took a wicket off it. Arun later told this writer that he didn’t expect the all-rounder to use that delivery so early in international cricket. But Pandya has always had a propensity to surprise.
None more so than now, when he has arrived at the biggest stage of them all, as a bowler who can be fully trusted. In four out of seven matches, Pandya has bowled his complete spell. Against South Africa and West Indies, it wasn’t needed. Only against Australia, did Kohli need a back-up plan.
So much so, Jadhav has only bowled six overs in this 2019 Cricket World Cup, four of them in one game against South Africa. In the last five games he played, Jadhav didn’t bowl more than two overs, one each against Australia and West Indies. You don’t need him to, when Pandya can bowl all ten.
“Over a period of time, it was a big challenge for him (Pandya) to bowl those 10 overs. He realised that to bowl those 10 overs, he will have to develop a certain armoury in his bowling. That’s exactly what he worked on – slower balls, slower bouncers, and perfecting his quicker bouncers, and all of this gave him the confidence to bowl those 10 overs,” India bowling coach Bharat Arun said after India’s win over West Indies.
143 clicks. Ball rising sharply, nay, taking off after hitting a particular spot. A long, cold stare. This was Pandya bowling to Rassie van der Dussen in India’s opening game against South Africa at Southampton. This was him again, at the same ground, against Afghanistan. And again, versus Australia, and again, versus Pakistan – it has been a treat to watch Pandya realise what he can do with the ball currently.
It is the effort ball, one that skids on and surprises the batsmen, rushing them on. The surprise comes next – sometimes fuller, sometimes short of length, but always with a change of pace. As trends suggested, English wickets in this World Cup have been on the slower side, particularly in the second half of this tournament, and Pandya has adapted to this aspect very cleverly with the variation of pace.
He worked over Liton Das with a quicker shorter ball, and then duped Shakib al Hasan with a slower one, also short, and following the batsman. Against Afghanistan, he used this change-of-pace weapon to bowl a steady line and give nothing away, when defending a smaller total. It is this awareness that underlines the next step in Pandya’s evolution as an all-rounder.
Perhaps the biggest example of it was against England. As Jonny Bairstow and company attacked, a 350-plus total was easily on the cards. India’s best bowling passage came in overs 31-40, when bowling in tandem he restricted the flow of runs. England returned only 43/2 in those ten overs, giving India hope. Of course, it didn’t work out in their favour – the bottom-line again being that Pandya, now, inherently absorbs conditions and situations as they play out, adjusting his individual bowling tactics accordingly.
Take the big game at Manchester (June 16) for instance – smacked by Fakhar Zaman and Babar Azam, Pandya was redeployed as soon as they were dismissed. Only, he didn’t bowl to complete the overs but struck twice to completely rout Pakistan’s chase.
Even when taken for runs in his initial spell, Pandya has showcased wherewithal to come back unscathed and impact the proceedings later on. And its direct impact is seen in India’s resultant team selection strategy, with Jadhav left out of the Bangladesh game on Tuesday. There is no Vijay Shankar available either.
Over the years, Kohli – like Dhoni before him – has been reluctant going in with only five bowling options. Loss to England showcased that strategy to be flawed, especially on flatbed wickets, wherein regular bowlers get smacked and there is no option for introducing part-timers.
Particularly with Mayank Agarwal flying in, this allows room for further chop and change, playing that extra batsman as tested out against Bangladesh. Was it a dress rehearsal for the semi-final, expectedly against England at Edgbaston again?
That the Indian team management is comfortable testing, and possibly changing strategy, at the business end of a World Cup indicates their growing comfort in the readiness of their fifth ‘full-time’ bowler.
It is the Pandya effect, clear and simple.