On a 55-day tour of Australia with the India A team, Hardik Pandya says he understood what it meant to be a long-format cricketer. He might soon get an opportunity to bring that knowledge to a Test match
Returning from the India A tour of Australia in September, Hardik Pandya told his brother and Mumbai Indians team-mate Krunal something simple yet significant. “I actually have learned cricket on this tour,” Krunal recounts his younger sibling as saying.
Pandya remembers it well. The India A tour helped bring his career back into stride after a disappointing IPL. “I remember that clearly,” Pandya tells ESPNcricinfo on Wednesday, hours after his maiden call-up to the India Test squad. “Not just Krunal, I said the same to many players on that A tour.”
So what exactly did Pandya learn that he did not know already? “The main change was learning how to be disciplined playing cricket,” he says. “And playing Test cricket would be the most disciplined thing I will be doing.”
Prior to the India A tour, Pandya says he played every tournament riding on his talent. However, during the 55-day long tour of Australia in the company of India A coach Rahul Dravid, Pandya began to understand what makes a long-form player.
Dravid narrated a lot of things during the Australia trip, but Pandya cannot forget one point the former India captain made. “We were talking about what is a natural game,” Pandya says. “He [Dravid] said that there is no such thing called a natural game. It is just that in cricket you play according to the situation, and you win the games.”
Soon Pandya found himself in the middle of one such tight situation. It came during the first innings of the second unofficial Test against Australia A at the Allan Border field in Brisbane. Put in to bat, India A were struggling at 46 for 6. Pandya was the last specialist batsman. He ended being the last man out, in the first over of the second morning, having made 79. The match ended in a draw
“Lately I have been more disciplined,” Pandya says. “I wanted to perform in every game, but had not done much till then. In that match I told myself I can be the standout player, this is the last game of the tour, and I should do something really amazing. They came really hard, but I also responded hard and it worked.”
Pandya says the biggest takeaway from the India A tour is that he now understands the nuances of the game a little bit better. Krunal agrees. “In his bowling he is now more clear with his thought process. Now his mind is quite clear what to do, when to do. If you think two things at the same time then you cannot execute your plan. He told me now he is very clear with his though process about what he has to do next in a situation.”
On October 11, Hardik Pandya celebrated his 23rd birthday. Five days later he made his ODI debut in Dharamsala, in the first ODI of the series against New Zealand. Kapil Dev, India’s greatest allrounder, presented Pandya his ODI cap. During the handover Kapil shared a tiny nugget of information: he had made his Test debut in 1978 on the same day, October 16. “The feeling, that moment, I will cherish that all my life. I will never forget that I got my cap from Kapil Dev.”
Hardik Pandya says the Test call-up is the biggest moment of his cricketing life. “Honestly, being called for the Tests is more pleasing and happier moment,” Hardik Pandya says. “I have been in the scheme of things as far as ODIs are concerned for a while, but to get a call for Test cricket is the main thing. It tests your temperament, fitness, work ethics, mental strength.”
Hardik Pandya ‘s cricketing ride so far has been akin to being on a rollercoaster. He started on a high in his maiden international series, against Australia in the T20Is earlier this year. He showed courage and presence of mind during a last-over, one-run victory against Bangladesh in the World Twenty20 before sliding swiftly during the IPL where Mumbai Indians preferred Krunal over him.
Pandya was then ignored for the limited-over series in Zimbabwe before being recalled for the fortunes-turning India A tour of Australia. He says he let external forces affect him in that low period. “It was very difficult during the IPL,” he says. “I was focusing on what people were saying about me. They were saying he is not focusing on his cricket. Until then I never used to worry about what outsiders said. But after making a name I was not used to people talking so much about me. Eventually it harmed me slightly. I was not focusing on things I should have focused on. Then I learned that if you are successful, people will say things and if you get affected it will not help. So I learned I had to be slightly low-profile and mellowed down.”
The Hardik Pandya that came back was better equipped to handle tight situations. “I am more consistent as a bowler than what I was previously,” he says. “I was slightly wayward in Twenty20. But everything was new for me in that phase. Now I know I should and should not do.”
Hardik Pandya backs the talk with an example, his first over in ODI cricket. “After four balls I had gone for 12 runs,” he said with a chuckle. “For a second I thought of my T20I debut over where I had gone for 19 runs. But I backed myself. The fours that went were mostly outside edges. Then I got a wicket off the last ball.”
That wicket was of Martin Guptill, who had hit those three fours with a tentative bat, before eventually edging to the second slip. Pandya finished with three wickets and earned the Man-of-the-Match award on debut.
Not just bowling with the new ball, another evident change in his bowling is the speed. Pandya clocked speeds in the 140s consistently against New Zealand. “MS bhai [Dhoni] has been a big support, giving me the new ball,” he says. “It has helped in my growth as a bowler.” Dhoni told him that with his deceptive pace and with his ability to swing the ball, Pandya could easily grow into one of the three main fast bowlers for India in ODIs.
The pace, Hardik Pandya points out, has not come overnight. “As a fast bowler you don’t go up in your pace in a month,” he said. “I have maintained a proper diet, proper eating habits, proper sleeping habits, proper fitness. It is about being disciplined in line and length. Paras Mhambrey [the bowling coach] helped me with that during the India A tour.”
The changes are not lost upon keen observers. MSK Prasad, chairman of India’s selection committee, noted that Pandya had mellowed recently. Flamboyance, animated celebrations on the field accentuated by an extroverted personality, Prasad said, was what people associated Hardik Pandya with. That maverick element is still there, but he is much more composed in his attitude and more focused on the job at hand.
“You can make out by his celebrations in the last three to four months,” Krunal says. “It is just the beginning. He is aiming to play consistently for India and do well. It is just a small step, but a very important one.”
Pandya’s selection might be seen as a left-field choice considering his lack of first-class cricket since he started playing domestic cricket for Baroda in 2013. Pandya has played only 16 first-class matches, but reckons that cannot be seen as a limitation. “I am quite confident that I will be able to play good Test cricket,” Hardik Pandya says. “I know what capability I have. Eventually in life you learn things by doing. So I am not thinking whether I will play [against England] or not. I know I will learn something from this series.”
About Hardik Pandya
Pandya has been playing for Baroda cricket team since 2013. He played a vital role in Baroda winning the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy in the 2013–14 season. Baroda were struggling at 20/2 in their opening match of the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, at the Wankhede Stadium, when Hardik walked in to bat in the fifth over and turned it around with a blistering 57-ball 82 (not out) facing the likes of Zaheer Khan, Dhawal Kulkarni and Pravin Tambe.
Baroda won the match and Hardik Pandya caught the eye of former Indian and then Mumbai Indians head coach John Wright who was present at the venue along with the Mumbai Indians think-tank. They were so impressed with the youngster that two days later they came back to watch his next match, against Gujarat cricket team.
In IPL 2015, he scored a quick fire 21 runs of 8 balls and grabbed 3 important catches to help MI beat CSK by 6 wickets and was awarded the man of the match. After the first qualifier against Chennai Super Kings, Sachin Tendulkar called over Hardik and told him that he will play for India in the next 18 months. Within one year he was chosen to play in the Indian squad during 2016 Asia Cup and 2016 ICC World Twenty20.
Later on against Kolkata Knight Riders in a must win situation for Mumbai Indians to remain in the race for the top 4 teams, he scored a quickfire 61 of 31 balls to earn his second man of the match award in the season and won the match for his side. He was also awarded the ‘Yes Bank maximum sixes award’ for the same match.
In Asia Cup 2016, he smashed 31 off 18 balls which helped India to a respectable score against Bangladesh. Later on, he also picked up a wicket to secure the win. In the next match against Pakistan he bowled his career best figures of 3 for 8 which restricted Pakistan to 83.
In Asia cup 2016, he picked up a combine hat trick against Pakistan (2wickets on last two balls) and Sri Lanka (1 wickets on 1st ball)
On 23 March 2016, in an 2016 ICC World Twenty20 match against Bangladesh, Hardik Pandya took two crucial wickets in the last 3 balls of last over of the match as India beat Bangladesh by one run.
Hardik Pandya made his One Day International (ODI) debut for India against New Zealand on 16 October 2016 at Dharamshala and took 3 wickets and helped India to win by 6 wickets and became the fourth Indian to be Man of the Match on ODI debut after Sandeep Patil, Mohit Sharma and K. L. Rahul . He received his ODI cap from Kapil Dev, who himself made his test debut on 16 October, year was 1978. He, in his first ODI batting innings scored 36 runs from 32 balls with 3 boundaries.