India’s Hardik Pandya celebrates his half-century against Pakistan in Kandy on Saturday. Pic/AFP
Hardik Pandya isn't a one-trick pony. There are multiple strings to his mellifluous batting bow, and he is getting to be a master at plucking the right one judiciously. One needn't look beyond his last two One-Day International innings for validation.
In August, in Tarouba, the stand-in skipper strode in at 223 for three after 31.5 overs in the deciding rubber against West Indies. The platform set for an explosive finish, Pandya delivered the knockout punch, blazing to an unbeaten 70 off 52 deliveries, with four fours and five sixes. India amassed 351 for five, enough for a crushing 200-run victory and a 2-1 series result. A little over a month later, an entirely different set of circumstances confronted the all-rounder.
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In the high-voltage Asia Cup clash at the Pallekele International Cricket Stadium, Pakistan's crack pace attack had ripped out the Indian top order; at 66 for four with more than a third of the innings left, Pandya had a rebuilding job on hand, with a good mate batting at an unfamiliar position for company.
Ishan Kishan hadn't once batted below No. 4 in 16 previous ODI innings, so he needed time and clarity to find his feet at No. 5. Fortunately for him and India, his partner offered both. That the two men enjoy a wonderful personal rapport helped, but that alone wouldn't suffice against a Pakistani outfit chomping at the bit, aware that one more wicket could open the floodgates.
In hindsight, one might say Pandya's first delivery held a portent of things to come. An edge-steer, off Haris Rauf, dribbled away to third man where Naseem Shah made a hash of the most regulation of stops, allowing the ball to trickle over the boundary skirtings. If only things were that straightforward.
Pandya, like Kishan, had a job on his hands, keeping the marauding pacers at bay, but he was always in control, always poised and composed. When the boundaries didn't come - there were only three fours in his 50, off 62 deliveries - he ran beautifully between the wickets with Kishan, weighting the ball nicely and using the vast outfield as his ally. When Rauf and Shaheen Afridi tested out the bounce in the pitch, Pandya disdainfully pulled them in front of mid-on; short balls outside off were crunched over point or dabbed fine for fours. Soon, 50 in 62 became 87 in 89 when he finally fell, foxed by a slower delivery from Afridi.
It was a somewhat tame end to a lovely innings, a knock satisfying to so many for multiple reasons. For India to make a strong pitch for the World Cup crown, Pandya will have to reprise Yuvraj Singh's heroics of 2011.
No pressure at all, Hardik.