When Krunal Pandya walked in on Tuesday in the first One-Day International against England in Pune at the fall of Hardik Pandya’s wicket, India were busy digging a hole for themselves. From 178/2 after 33 overs, they had only progressed to 206/5 after 41 overs. The engine was sputtering and about to die.
In the middle was KL Rahul, who seemed to be in a battle with himself, and he was joined by Krunal Pandya on his ODI debut. No one expected the score to reach anywhere near 300 from this point. But that partnership steered the game in a completely different direction.
Krunal, the older of the Pandya brothers, started off well. After scoring a single off the first three deliveries he faced, he launched into the big shots — hitting four fours off the next five balls he faced. He suddenly had 17 off 8 balls and the Indian innings found momentum again.
Crucial Krunal knock
Importantly, he wasn’t looking to play just a cameo. He went on and even pulled Rahul along. In the process, he got the fastest fifty in ODIs by a batsman on debut — off just 26 balls.
“It was (fabulous to watch Krunal Pandya bat),” Gavaskar said on Star Sports. “Don’t forget that he was making his debut. So, it’s very difficult for somebody to play with the freedom that he showed. The shots that he was playing straight from the time that he came in. With KL Rahul not quite hitting at that particular point, somebody had to take the initiative.”
Gavaskar added: “Krunal took the initiative and eased it for KL Rahul. That’s what team spirit is all about – easing the pressure off your teammate. That’s why his batting was so impressive.”
Cut to the England run-chase.
Having put 317 runs on the scoreboard, India knew they had a very good chance of winning the match. But those thoughts quickly vanished into the stands after the England openers launched a breathtaking assault on the Indian bowlers.
By the time, the 14th over of England innings was finished, the tourists had reached 135/1. With the exception of Bhuvneshwar Kumar, all the other Indian bowlers were hammered to all parts of the ground by Jonny Bairstow and Jason Roy.
Then, Kohli threw the ball back to Prasidh Krishna. The pacer, who was making his international debut, had been taken for 37 runs in his first three overs — including one 22-run over in which he was smoked for two sixes and two fours.
His confidence should have been shot but instead, Prasidh, as he later revealed, decided to not try too hard and concentrated on hitting the right areas.
“I understood after my third over,” said the Karnataka pacer after the game, “that I can’t bowl full and not have anything on the ball. then I hit good length areas, and let the ball do everything else..”
He added: “IPL has helped me of course. It is [also] important in a 10-over format for a bowler, there is always more time to come back.”
The approach worked instantly. He got some extra bounce to induce the false stroke from Roy first and then got the wicket of Ben Stokes before the left-hander could get set. From 3-0-37-0, he went to 5-1-41-2. The two-wicket burst helped alter the balance of the match, it allowed India to get their foot in the door and the hosts didn’t look back after that.
Prasidh also said: “The talk from the beginning was that if we get one wicket it’ll change things around and that’s exactly what happened.”
The pacer ended up with figures of 4/54 to become the first Indian bowler to take a four-wicket haul on ODI debut.
In the end, India won by a margin of 66 runs. But the thing that stood out the most was the positive impact that debutantes seem to be having for India. They aren’t paralysed by the occasion, they do a great job using their nervous energy and they rise to the occasion like veteran pros.
We saw it happen in the Australia tour where Shubman Gill, T Natarajan, Washington Sundar and even Shardul Thakur (effectively making his Test debut) played a vital role for India. Then, Axar Patel stepped up during the Test series against England. Ishan Kishan and Suryakumar Yadav had an instant impact in the T20Is and now Krunal and Prasidh have done the same.
This doesn’t feel like a one-off. The intensity and the stakes of the Indian Premier League mean that many young Indian cricketers are used to pressure; they are used to performing under the limelight. And the exposure essentially translates into them becoming battle-hardened pros even before they make their debut for India.
Of course, not everyone learns in the same way, but the league is an opportunity to sharpen their skills and those who do it right emerge with confidence that can’t be dented easily.
“I’m a really, really proud man right now,” said Kohli in the post-match chat. “Team showed great character and intensity. As I mentioned in the past as well, we promote players who have intent and back their skills… so we want to back people who will do a selfless job. It’s a healthy competition between everyone for every slot. We have 2-3 players available for every slot. The management has done these discussions with senior players as well. We are on the right path.”
The competition will also ensure that no player can afford to take it easy. There are more than enough talented players on the bench and in the end, only excellence will prevail.