Virat Kohli made a gutsy statement about Hardik Pandya at the press conference after the first Test at Galle. “I have a lot of faith in him (Hardik) as far as any format is concerned. If he grows in confidence – you see someone like Ben Stokes, what he does for England, brings in great balance as an all-rounder. I see no reason why Hardik Pandya can’t become that for India,” he said.
The reason it is a gutsy statement is because Hardik Pandya has played just two Tests with very little to do with bat and bowl. The key words here are “if he grows in confidence”. In order to do that, he should be given more opportunities to showcase his talent with bat and bowl. Coach Shastri and captain Kohli will need to think intelligently about how Pandya gains experience as an all-rounder so can he can at least be close to Stokes’ caliber.
Potential to make it big
The lanky lad from Baroda first came into limelight when Mumbai Indians picked him up in 2015. He has had a few ups and downs already in the IPL and he has come out of it strongly. IPL 2017 was the most successful season for Hardik and the one that helped him break into the limited overs squad for India.
Since making his ODI debut in October last year, the Baroda all-rounder has continued to impress one and all. He seems to have gained a few yards in his pace and his batting continues to improve. The innings against Pakistan in the Champions Trophy final is a testament to his explosive skills.
So it was only a matter of time before he was selected into the Test squad. During the fag end of Dhoni’s Test captaincy, it was becoming clear that the Test team desperately needed a genuine all-rounder. India successfully promoted Ashwin up the batting order, but the lack of a seam bowling all-rounder option was clearly visible in the Test team.
The team management did well to zero in on Pandya at the early stage and include him into the Test team.
Early Debut in Tests
Hardik had just 19 first-class games under his belt before making his Test debut in the ongoing series against Sri Lanka. It means that the young all-rounder hasn’t come in with a lot of experience of playing in the longer version of the game. It also means that he will gain a hands-on experience while playing Test cricket.
The 23-year-old is already an integral part of limited over cricket and Kohli made sure in his statement that he will be a regular in the Test team as well. Hence Pandya will get to play very little domestic cricket to hone his Test skills. Given this situation we need to be very patient in expecting him to start performing immediately in Test cricket. He has a long way to learn before he can be considered even close to some of the great all-rounders. He definitely has the potential to do so.
Some people also might argue that Jadeja had started off his Test career in similar manner – perceived as a batting all-rounder. He did not live up to the expectations when it came to batting and Pandya could end up just like Jadeja if promoted up the order.
While this theory is not all wrong, one thing to note is that Jadeja was believed to be a batting all-rounder because of the runs he scored in domestic cricket. After all, he has three triple-centuries in domestic cricket.
However, Pandya’s case is a bit different. From his debut in the IPL to his recent knock in the Champions Trophy final, there is enough proof that the Baroda youngster is a far more superior batsman than Jadeja.
Team Management’s approach towards Pandya in Tests
There is little doubt that Hardik has a fixed role to play in the limited overs cricket. He will bat at no.6 or 7 and the mandate given to him will invariably be to come in and smash. It is also certain that he will bowl at least 7 or 8 overs on average in each match.
It will be interesting to see what strategy the think tank adopts for the all-rounder in Tests. It is pretty much clear that he will not get to play much of domestic cricket and hence Kohli and Shastri’s approach will play a very important role in shaping up Pandya’s Test career.
Prior to the ongoing third Test, there was very little for Pandya to do in the first two Tests. He batted at no.8 and bowled just 25 overs and got three crucial wickets. The team management must make up its mind whether they have selected him as a batting all-rounder or as a bowling all-rounder. If the selection is as a batting all-rounder then he needs to bat higher than no.8 whereas if the selection is as a bowling all-rounder then he needs to bowl more overs.
Also while batting at no. 8, Pandya will always be in danger of running out of partners. It is important to note that he could complete his century because the no.9, 10 and 11 could bat out 100 deliveries. In his 62-run partnership with Kuldeep, Pandya was happy to hold off his big shots and rotate strike. His first half of the century reflects that approach. However, once Kuldeep got out, Pandya was forced to hit the big shots. It won’t always happen that Kuldeep, Shami and Umesh will bat out considerable amount of deliveries. It is also possible that the big-hitter from Baroda can miscue any of his big shot and be holed out. In either scenario, he is too good a batsman to be run out of partners or forced to hit big shots prematurely.
If the youngster is promoted up the order, even at no.7 if not at 6, then he will have Saha coming in after him. Yes, in this Indian team every individual has been assigned a fixed role and it is one of the reasons behind the success of the Test team. However, if giving more opportunity to a promising young player prompts a slight change, then it should be accommodated. There is not even a need to change the mandate given to Pandya irrespective at what position he bats.
It is perfectly fine if the team management wants him to feel his way around Test cricket by slotting him at no.8, and giving him a few overs. However, it will help if this approach remains only for first few Tests.
The promising all-rounder needs to get more exposure before the real test against South Africa in January next year. India embarks on tough tours of South Africa, England and Australia in 2018 so Pandya will need to be given as much opportunity as possible in the relatively easier series against Sri Lanka. India plays the Islanders again in November-December and the team management must make most of it by giving Pandya as much opportunity as possible.
There is no doubt that there is immense talent in the Baroda all-rounder. He is an explosive player and hence will always attract attention. It will also be very important how he handles it and the pressure that comes with playing Test cricket. If he does that successfully then India will have found an all-rounder they desperately were looking for all these years.