India's Hardik Pandya en route his 96-ball 108 on Day 2 of the 3rd Test v SL at Kandy yesterday. Pic/AFP
The last century Hardik Pandya can remember hitting was when he was still a teenager. In all top-flight cricket, whether played over 20 overs, 50 overs or four days, in coloured clothing and white, Pandya never once reached three figures in a match that counted. And yet, he romped to the mark in only his third Test, setting India up for a healthy 487 which Sri Lanka made look even bigger by collapsing to 135 all out.
When Pandya walked out to bat, India were 322-6, which soon became 339-7 as Wriddhiman Saha departed. Pandya, who had resisted the temptation to thrash the living daylights out of every ball he faced, took 61 balls to reach 50, which is when the ninth wicket fell. Suddenly, the need to bat like a top-order specialist gave way to the opportunity of taking the lion's share of the strike and taking on the bowlers. With nine fielders on the fence — only the bowler and wicketkeeper were within earshot of the batsman — Pandya let it rip.
"Could there have been a bigger opportunity than that? Nine wickets were already down and I knew, if I stay in the crease and connect the ball well, it would go for six. Even if I were to mis-hit, I had to. I had no choice. It was an ideal opportunity and there was a team's goal which was to give them a 400-run target. It was a calculative risk," Pandya later said Malinda Pushpakumara, the left-arm orthodox spinner, was the obvious target and the 116th over of the innings read: 4, 4, 6, 6, 6. The ball was drilled back over the bowler's head with such power, timing and precision that if there were any more spectators at the ground they would have been in serious risk of getting injured.
Pandya's innings sent records tumbling: his ton was the fastest by an Indian at No. 8; was the first by an Indian before lunch. No Indian had scored more runs in an over in Test cricket than the Pushpakumara pounding and his seven sixes was the most by an Indian in an overseas Test.
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