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T20 World Cup 2021

India’s great Hardik Pandya what if?

Hardik T20 World Cup 2021
Aadya Sharma by Aadya Sharma
@Aadya_Wisden 4 minute read

Hardik Pandya is a key weapon in India’s T20I arsenal, but guaranteeing him an automatic spot at the T20 World Cup will be a challenge if his true all-round self isn’t available for the team.

For a long, long time, India yearned for a player like Hardik Pandya: a combination of a boisterous middle-order batsman and a nippy medium-pace bowler who could do it all. With Pandya, it felt that he was all that and a bit more – Kapil Dev, the gold standard of all-rounders in India even claimed Pandya was “better than me”.

That was four years ago when Pandya was still fresh and buzzing at the international level. Since then, Pandya’s contributions have thinned dramatically, primarily due to a back injury in 2018 that continues to impede him since.

The big concern is easily the bowling – Pandya wouldn’t run through sides but offers you the luxury of having an extra batsman, playing the holding role well to send down four useful overs in the middle period. His cutters are effective on slow surfaces, and he can angle the ball in from good height to stifle right-handers.

In the 2016 T20 World Cup, Pandya’s maiden ICC event, he ended as the joint-highest wicket-taker for India, keeping his calm in a tight last-over win against Bangladesh. It’s the sort of role India would love to have for the 2021 edition, along with his usual prowess with the bat that has already made him a star for Mumbai Indians in the IPL. But is he just as good an all-round package as he is on paper?

The injury has hampered one-half of what Pandya offers – and Mumbai Indians, for the last two seasons, have been playing Pandya as a specialist batsman. He did not bowl in the entire IPL 2020 in UAE (part-hosts of the upcoming World Cup), continuing to stay away in the first half of the 2021 season too.

Now, that doesn’t exactly leave India’s pace attack depleted as such, but it does leave India with a big question – how does Pandya, the all-rounder, fit in India’s plans for the T20 World Cup?

If he’s not bowling his quota of four, Pandya leaves India with the challenge of having another bowling option who can finish off the remaining overs. In six T20Is this year, Pandya has finished off his quota only thrice, with a shoulder injury keeping him from bowling in the IPL for precautionary reasons.

While there’s only been speculation over his bowling fitness, Pandya himself recently said that the lack of active participation is a gradual lead-up to the World Cup. “I want to make sure that I will be able to bowl in all the games at the T20 World Cup,” he said, admitting that he was aware of the balance he brings to the outfit.

As for any all-rounder, Hardik’s bowling is closely interlinked to his batting, and you can afford to include a player of his calibre purely based on his big-hitting skills, even if the bowling column is vacant. Of late, Hardik hasn’t given the sort of confidence though. This is India’s T20I unit we’re talking about, teeming with options. Each batting spot has at least three contenders.

In the first leg of the 2021 edition of IPL, Hardik collected just 52 runs @ 8.66 in seven games, with a best of 16 and a strike-rate of 118.18. This year, in five T20I innings, only three saw him hit at a strike-rate of more than 145, his career figure, with two of them being sub-100 numbers. Unusually for Hardik, he’s struggled to break the shackles recently, and while there has been the odd sparks of brilliance (such as a quickfire 64 in the England ODIs, and a 17-ball 39 against them in the T20Is), a mellow showing only puts pressure on Pandya to walk into the XI for the T20 World Cup.

It’s not India’s biggest headache, and those who’ve seen Hardik at his best would vouch for him to find form in time for the global event. His recent numbers won’t mean a thing if he starts whacking the ball in the IPL as he does, and doubles up to cushion India’s frontline seamers. But until then, there will be questions around Hardik – does he start as a fully-operational all-rounder, a half-fit part-functioning all-rounder or just a specialist batsman? Is the last option the best India has for his spot if Hardik the batsman is not at his best? His participation in the event will depend a lot on the availability of his medium-pace, which balances India on multiple fronts. Without that, it could be a challenge to sneak him in if his batting form doesn’t get better.

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