India’s 25-man group for the tour of England that includes the World Test Championship final and the England series does not feature Hardik Pandya. It might be that we have already seen the best of him in red-ball cricket, writes Rohit Sankar.
“Hardik Pandya is like the parody account of Jacques Kallis” read a tweet from 2018, days after an unflattering Southampton Test.
Pandya had played each of India’s eight Test matches in the year until that point, quite an achievement at the time considering India never stuck to one side for two successive Tests. He was the only player to play all Tests in the year until that point, with three Tests in South Africa and four in England interspersed by a one-off Test at home against Afghanistan.
But he would fall from contention just as quickly as he had become a mainstay. perhaps never to be seen in India whites again.
Hardik Pandya is like the parody account of Jacques Kallis #ENGvIND
— Abhishek (@ImAbhishek7_) September 2, 2018
Cape Town 2018 is known for a lot of things – an epic battle between Bhuvneshwar Kumar and AB de Villiers, a searing Kagiso Rabada spell and the magical touch of Vernon Philander.
In the midst of those giants is Hardik, “the parody account” in the land of King Kallis. Swinging his arms wildly as he comes in to bat, Hardik walks straight into a collapse. Overturning a review first ball, Hardik doesn’t look back; drives, cuts, ramps and pulls unfurl against Philander, Steyn and Rabada.
Fresh off a Test hundred in Sri Lanka where he was met with boundary riders left, right and center, Pandya was thrown into the Cape Town cauldron and lifted India from 81-6 to 209, him making 93 of those runs.
This was no tribute act; this was pure Pandya power.
The patience is running out already and Hardik is on thin ice as he gets picked for the Nottingham Test. India are 0-2 down in the series: backing Hardik as the all-rounder is a brave call.
On day two, he runs through England’s middle-order, sending back Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow and Chris Woakes among others. Five wickets in five overs is as Kapil Dev-esque as it comes, a game-changing, moment-seizing spell. But Pandya is wary of any lofty comparisons.
“I have never wanted to be Kapil Dev. Let me be Hardik Pandya,” Hardik famously quipped in the press conference at the end of the day’s play. The next day, he adds a swift half-century, becoming the sixth Indian to make a fifty and take a five-for in a Test in England.
India win comfortably and are back in the series, with Hardik at the heart of the triumph.
In Southampton, Hardik’s all-rounder image came crashing down, only a Test after he had been on top of the world. He leaked runs at five runs per over and made 4 and 0 with the bat. In a tight contest, his poor show cost India.
Sunil Gavaskar summed up the general sentiment among India fans when he declared that he didn’t think Hardik is a Test all-rounder. He was dropped, and is yet to play another Test.
Since then, Hardik has become a white-ball phenomenon, and while fitness issues have played their part, it’s hard not to feel there’s something more at play in his Test exile.
A return to England, the scene of his greatest triumph, could have provided a chance for him to build up to fitness over a long tour, while in December, even when India felt they were short-staffed ahead of the Australia Tests, Hardik wasn’t asked to stay back after the limited-overs series, despite him doing well.
— rishab pant fanclub (@iamrishabpant) July 26, 2017
“Test cricket is a very different challenge altogether and we need him to bowl,” Virat Kohli said at the time, clarifying what India see as Hardik’s role in the Test side.
Even when he was in the squad for the home Test series against England, the reckless day one call right before the toss to play that dynamic x-factor player never came. India are no longer the Test team they were in 2018.
Since his last Test, Ravindra Jadeja has risen like a phoenix to be the all-rounder India always dreamed of. Jadeja averages no less than 58.3 in this time with the bat and a rather good 28.55 with the ball. Now, that’s Kallis-esque. The rise of Rishabh Pant, whose breakthrough as a Test cricketer came in the first Test after Hardik’s dropping, has also narrowed his path, with a keeper capable of batting at six lessening the need for a batting all-rounder.
Hardik’s overall Test numbers aren’t worth fawning over – an average of 31 with bat and ball across 11 Tests. Whether he’s the type of all-rounder – in the mould of England’s Ben Stokes or Andrew Flintoff – to have impact over and above what the statistics show him capable of is a question which might lay unanswered.
India have the resources to not lose sleep over Hardik the Test cricketer. That’s not the case in limited-overs cricket where his value multiplies manifold, to the point he is nearly indispensable. White ball cricket has seen the best of Hardik, and it can handle the worst.
Make no mistake, he is no Kallis. Or Kapil Dev. Yet in terms of value to the limited-overs team, he is little less. Those numbers might never flare up to give jaw-dropping reactions like those legends, but his impact is what India seek. We might never see Hardik in Tests, or we might in fits and bursts. But if we never see his peak, we’ll always have Cape Town and Nottingham to savour the all-rounder he could have been. More Cape Towns and Nottinghams will be created in limited-overs cricket.
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