Return of the All-Rounder: Is Hardik Pandya Team India’s Dark Horse at this Cricket World Cup?


Return of the All-Rounder: Is Hardik Pandya Team India’s Dark Horse at this Cricket World Cup?

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

Hardik Pandya has had quite a tumultuous few months. Just as his star was starting to rise in the Indian team, he overstepped his crease by a mile when he gave a tone-deaf interview on Koffee with Karan that was dripping with misogyny. The bad press might have spelled doom for a lesser talent, but Pandya weathered the storm and was soon lifting the IPL trophy with his Mumbai Indians teammates. And now, on the eve of the ICC Cricket World Cup, Hardik Pandya might just be the ace-in-the-hole for Team India at a tournament where players like him are destined for great things.

Consider two-time World Cup-winning West Indian captain Clive Lloyd’s statement, “From Afghanistan to England, or from India to West Indies, every team is blessed with top-class all-rounders. That’s why I believe it will be an all-rounders’ World Cup.” After leading West Indies to the title in the first two editions, in 1975 and 1979, Lloyd was on the brink of becoming the most successful World Cup captain ever, only to be held back by India’s Kapil Dev, one of the greatest all-rounders of his era. This was a time, during the ’80s and ’90s, when the all-rounder quartet of India’s Kapil Dev, England’s Sir Ian Botham, New Zealand’s Richard Hadlee, and Pakistan’s Imran Khan ruled the cricketing world.

Obviously, Lloyd knows what he’s talking about. Fast forward to 2019, as we enter the World Cup, almost every team has quality all-rounders who are bound to have a major impact. And that’s where Hardik Pandya comes in.

In the 21st  century, the all-rounder’s craft has fallen from its glory days of Dev, Botham, Hadlee, and Khan. When pressed to think, the first name that pops up is that of South African legend Jaques Kallis, followed perhaps by the Andrews — Flintoff and Symonds — who often went head-to-head during The Ashes. But all these players are retired now, and can you think of any other modern-day all-rounder remotely close in ability to these masters? Perhaps this 2019 edition of the World Cup will become a proving ground for a new generation, the Pandyas, Russells, and Shakibs of the cricketing world, who will draw fame for winning games as easily with the bat or the ball.

Australia has Glenn Maxwell and Marcus Stoinis, whom Virat Kohli termed as the “biggest threat” prior to India’s limited-overs leg in Australia. New Zealand has a destructive all-rounder in Jimmy Neesham, as well as the big-hitter and useful bowler in Colin de Grandhomme. Chris Morris and Andile Phehlukwayo are equally good with the bat and ball for South Africa. Sri Lanka has a champion all-rounder in Angelo Mathews. In Shadab Khan, Mohammad Hafeez and Shoaib Malik, Pakistan has utility all-rounders who can chip in at crucial junctures of the match. The ability of England’s Ben Stokes and Moeen Ali is no secret. Apart from Russell, who set the IPL 2019 on fire, West Indies has other all-rounders in Carlos Brathwaite, Jason Holder, and Fabian Allen, each of whom have the capability of winning a match single-handedly.

India has had several batting all-rounders who could roll their arm over, but the team has always been on a quest for a solid bowling all-rounder ever since Kapil Dev hung up his studs.

And then we have Pandya. The X-factor in the Indian squad, and perhaps the missing ingredient that was required. In an online show, Virender Sehwag recently said that despite India winning the 2011 World Cup, the team still felt the need for a genuine all-rounder, whom they now possess within their ranks. There’s also Ravindra Jadeja, a great value addition player with his impeccable fielding, tight bowling, and handy lower-order batting, but it is Pandya who is clearly the man to watch.

In 16 IPL matches, the wiry all-rounder amassed 402 runs at an average of 44.66 and a strike rate of over 190. He also bagged 14 wickets at an average of 27.85 and a strike rate of 18.21. It is often said that a genuine all-rounder is the one who can walk into the team both on the back of his batting and bowling. This is exactly what Hardik Pandya has done for Mumbai in the IPL 2019 season and will look to repeat his heroics in the upcoming ODI World Cup.

Pandya might have got a lot of flak for his ethics following his remarks on Koffee with Karan, but purely in terms of the sport, it seems as if the Baroda all-rounder is at the cusp of something extraordinary. While his bowling remains a work-in-progress, Pandya has grown by leaps and bounds as a finisher. He has always had this uncanny ability to hit sixes at will and turn the course of a match on its head, but the wiry cricketer has acquired a lot more consistency over the past year, perhaps hardened by his experiences.

India has had several batting all-rounders who could roll their arm over, but the team has always been on a quest for a solid bowling all-rounder ever since Kapil Dev hung up his studs. While Irfan Pathan seemed to fit in this role for sometime, he only flattered to deceive. In Pandya, the team has a genuine all-rounder who can actually make a difference on the flat English pitches, where 350 has almost become a par score. Pandya is perfectly suited to give the team the much-needed impetus in the slog overs.

All former cricketers, both Indian and international, have only good things to say about the all-rounder’s performance on the field. 2011 World Cup winners Virender Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh have put their money behind Pandya dishing out something very special in the 2019 edition.

It is quite clear then, in this World Cup, there will be a battle within the battle. While the teams will compete with all their blood and sweat to earn those crucial two points, the all-rounders will side-eye each other in what will be an attempt at one-upmanship. And Hardik Pandya, who was perhaps the most controversial member of Team India going into the tournament, might emerge from it as a conquering hero.