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.
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 Baroda all-rounder hasn’t come in with a lot of experience of playing the longer version of the game. It also means that he will have to gain a hands-on experience while playing Test cricket.
The 23-year-old is already an integral part of limited overs cricket and Kohli made sure in his statement that Pandya will be part of Test team as well. Hence he 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.
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.
There was very little for Pandya to do in the two Tests he has so far played in Sri Lanka. He batted at no.8 and bowled just 25 overs and got three crucial wickets in both Tests. The team management must make up its mind whether to select 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.
In either way, he 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 and so Pandya will need to be given as much opportunity as possible in the relatively easier series against Sri Lanka. India plays the Lankans 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.