You’ll see Hardik Pandya’s six to win the match. You’ll perhaps even see the six earlier in the over. They’ll be part of the highlight reels. They’ll be on social media. They’ll be all over the place. People will talk about them and praise Pandya’s power and poise as the second T20I between India and Australia came to a thrilling end.
But perhaps missing from this ‘great finisher’ narrative will be how much the right-hander struggled early on in his innings.
We’ve become used to watching Pandya come out to bat and begin middling the ball straight out of the screws. He’s being doing it for the Mumbai Indians consistently and we have seen him start to do that for India too.
It doesn’t even look like he is trying to hit the ball too hard. His sense of timing is uncanny and he also has the knack of picking the right ball.
But on Sunday, he was going hard at the ball but getting no distance on it. Pandya isn’t a cute player. The dinks and nudges are not for him and neither are the scoops or reverse hits. He backs himself to clear the boundary lines with authoritative hits, much like his MI teammate Kieron Pollard.
Yet, the first four at Sydney was chopped past short third man. He saw the gap and played the field.
This wasn’t a typical Pandya innings. The shot took him to 16 off 10 balls. The strike-rate was still fine but something was clearly not clicking (like it didn’t in the second ODI at the same venue).
At the start of the 19th over, Pandya was on 17 off 12 balls… looking a bit out of sorts. India needed 25 off 12 balls to win the match. An achievable target but one that required a few big hits by the batting side.
It really was a case of now or never and this is where Pandya’s immense belief in himself came through. He made the next ten balls he faced count.
Andrew Tye was given the 19th over. His knuckleballs had been working well. The first three balls yielded just three runs for Pandya and India. Then came a four. The bat turned in his hand but the ball flew off the outside edge of the bat over short third man.
The four off the next ball was more authoritative. The bat still turned in his hand but he picked the gap and beat the sweeper. The two fours helped make it a 11-run over and India needed 14 runs from the last 6 balls.
Was Pandya worried? Not one bit.
“It’s pretty simple,” said Pandya after the game. “I really like to see the scorecard and play. It lets you know the kind of shots and options you have. I’ve realised you always have more time than you realise in T20 matches. No matter the target — we’ve got 80-90-100 in the last five before, and I take confidence from that.”
The equation was, indeed, pretty simple then. Most saw it as fours and twos and singles and maybe a six. Not Pandya.
He scrambled through for two off the first ball of Sams’ over. The second was deposited deep into the stands in typical Pandya fashion — he stood deep in his crease and smashed the length ball over wide long-on.
That reduced the equation to 6 off 4 balls. The next ball was a dot as he missed a short ball. Now 6 off 3… nerves? Not for Pandya and not for the Indian fans either.
The fourth ball was once again carted for a huge six. One 97m, one 93m. Sams made the mistake of bowling in his arc and before he knew it the ball was gone and so was the match.
Hardik Pandya’s last 10 balls in the 2nd T20I: 2, 0, 0, 4, 4, 1, 2, 6, 0, 6
From 17 off 12 balls, Pandya finished unbeaten 42 off 22. And this, when he wasn’t at his best. Maybe the time away from the game as he recovered from his back injury has given him time to put some real thought into his game but he does seem like a different batsman.
In the wagon wheel below, check out his scoring areas this year. It tells you how he looks to make an impact on the game. He clearly favours the leg-side more but even on the off-side, everything is in front of the wicket. The influence of the Pollard school of big-hitting is clear for all to see.
A sign of how he is not allowing this run of form to go to his head is how he glowingly spoke about Natarajan after the win. The words tell us so much about the frame of mind he is in at the moment.
“I thought Natarajan would have been Man of the Match, he gave us a target about 10 runs lower than it would have been,” said Pandya.
As Kohli said after the game, perhaps Pandya’s time is just beginning.
“The reason was Hardik coming into the team in 2016 was pure ability,” said Kohli. “He has raw talent. And now he realises that this is his time, the next 4-5 years, to be that bankable player that can win you games from anywhere. His plans are right and I’m glad to see that.”
There will be comparisons with Mahendra Singh Dhoni but Pandya’s method of operation is very different. Dhoni was a builder who would take it deep and then count on the odd well-timed big shot and nerves getting the better of the opposition. Pandya is more explosive and capable of finishing it off in one burst. He doesn’t wait for the mistakes, he makes it happen. The true test will be that of consistency but for now, the similarity that matters is that both can finish off games in style.