Hardik Pandya carried the nation’s hopes on his shoulders admirably on Sunday at the Dubai International Stadium. With India facing a target of 148 and Pandya walking in at No 6 at 89 for four after the fall of Suryakumar Yadav’s wicket, he did not succumb to pressure.
Pandya maintained a cool mind, did not press the panic button, and built a brilliant partnership of 52 in 4.5 overs to steer India to a five-wicket victory with two deliveries to spare. Pandya, it was, who hit the winning runs with a six off left-arm spinner Mohammad Nawaz to guide India to a win.
Pandya played according to the situation. Even if the asking run rate was mounting with every passing over, he believed that the target was achievable.
It is the new avatar of Pandya that we have come to know in recent times, and will get to watch more often. Having been made the captain of Gujarat Titans has made him more responsible. He led from the front with both the bat and the ball and inspired Titans to the IPL title in their first year of participation.
He admirably filled in as a stand-in India skipper in the T20Is, two against Ireland and one against the West Indies, maintaining a 100% success rate. The maturity that Pandya has shown this year has been remarkable.
He has transformed himself from a happy-go-lucky guy into one who looks at life seriously and values his role in the Indian team, winning the confidence of everyone around with his performances on the field.
The manner in which he built the partnership with Jadeja against Pakistan spoke volumes of his maturity even as Pakistan’s young paceman Naseem Shah threatened to guide Pakistan to victory. Pandya assessed the conditions and took the backseat when Jadeja was going after the Pakistan bowlers during his vital knock of 35, joint top-scorer for India with Virat Kohli, who became the second Indian to play in 100 T20Is on Sunday.
That Pandya has been regularly bowling in T20Is, completing his four-over quotas and picking up vital wickets is a very good sign for Indian cricket that will come handy in Australia in the T20 World Cup.
His man of the match performance was not just for his unbeaten 33 coming off 17 deliveries with four fours and the match-winning six but also for the brilliant spells that fetched India three vital wickets in the middle overs. After bowling a tidy spell of two overs for 15 runs, Pandya came back for his second spell and straightaway struck with a short ball that the pitch assisted the pacers with.
Four of the 10 Pakistan wickets were by really good short-pitched deliveries. Pandya’s bouncer to Iftikhar Ahmed in the first ball of his second spell forced the right-hander to hook and the resulting edge was taken by Dinesh Karthik. In his final over, the 15th of the Pakistan innings, Pandya struck twice, removing the dangerous Muhammad Rizwan, Pakistan’s top-scorer, with one that the batsman thought would shoot up and ducked under the delivery.
Though the ball did not rise sharply like the other bouncers, the batsman was committed to the upper-cut and was caught brilliantly by Avesh Khan at the third man boundary.Pandya struck again with another bouncer, Khushdil Shah playing an awkward cut and ended up giving a catch at deep cover. His three for 25 including a second spell of three for 10 in two overs followed by a match-winning knock of 33 not out in his fourth T20I against Pakistan has only enhanced his status as a premier all-rounder.