Hardik Pandya made a disastrous start to Sunday (July 8) afternoon, but by the evening, the allrounder from Baroda was grinning from ear to ear. He had, after all, played a substantial hand in India’s series-clinching seven-wicket victory in the final Twenty20 International against England at the County ground in Bristol.
On another day, Pandya would have walked away with the accolades for T20 best figures of 4 for 38 and an unbeaten 33 off just 14 deliveries that heralded India’s victory with eight deliveries to spare. Instead, he was more than happy to play second fiddle to Rohit Sharma, his Mumbai Indians captain, who became only the second player to score three T20I hundreds.
“Rohit played an outstanding innings. Not having two good games and coming and playing like this is special,” Pandya gushed after the series had been won 2-1. “That shows that the confidence the players in this team have is incredible. They are all backing themselves and it all comes back to the team because we give each other the support that we all require. When your team is with you, you eventually do well.
“Rohit everyone knows, is just magical. He finished it off single-handedly. We all expect that from him. I haven’t seen anyone strike the ball like Rohit Sharma.”
Pandya conceded 22 runs in his first over as Jason Roy latched on to him, smashing him for two fours and as many sixes. “To be honest, when I went for 22… T20 format, it is a funny game,” he philosophised in his deep voice. “You need to back yourself and come and bowl the best balls. I remember, after getting hit for 22, I was still normal. Krunal, my elder brother, told me, it’s ok, you are going to do it. I said the game is like that, if you come and bowl in the right areas and if you take wickets on this type of pitch or ground, eventually you will stop runs. My focus was just that I bowl different balls and keep it simple rather than just yorker or bowling length. The shortest boundary was the straight one. If I miss my length with the yorker, it will go. So I kind of mixed it up.
“When I bowl in the shorter formats, I try to think as a batsman,” he went on. “Generally when I am bowling, batsman are going hard at me in this format. I try to think as a batsman and I try to outwit them. Some days it works, some days it does not work but most of the time it works and when it works, it looks good. When it does not, it does not look good. The freedom from the support staff really helps, the players are all backing each other. In the end, it is a sport. Sometimes you will do well, sometimes you won’t. I try to look at it that way. When good days don’t come, then I work even harder.”
Pandya was asked if this was his best outing to date for India from an all-round perspective. “Yeah, you can say so,” he replied, sounding a little uncertain. “But obviously, I would have loved to restrict them. I gave away 38 runs. In the first over, I wanted to give less runs. Yes, you can call it my best performance but it does not matter. In the end, even if I give away 50 runs and don’t take a wicket but the team wins, then I am more than happy. I don’t play for my own performance.”
When he came out to bat, ahead of Suresh Raina and Mahendra Singh Dhoni, India needed 48 runs from 31 deliveries, a situation that appeared tailor-made given his ball-striking abilities. “No, I don’t think so,” he disagreed, then explained, “When I was young, I have batted at 3. For me, any situation, I play according to the situation. It doesn’t matter if it is a 13-ball 30 or a 25-ball 25. I play according to the situation and when you do that, you end up doing well.”
It has been a fairly remarkable two-and-a-half-year run in international cricket for Pandya, whose ability to bowl useful pace to go with his electric batting has made him a key cog in all formats. Since his T20I debut in Adelaide in January 2016, Pandya has played seven Tests, 38 One-Day Internationals and 35 T20Is. “I am learning, I am always learning in the game,” he pointed out. “I have always made sure that I keep on learning from my mistakes. Every game that I am playing, I am learning something or the other which is helping my game. We have a fantastic support staff and leaders who are giving us immense confidence to go out and express ourselves. We are just enjoying ourselves rather than thinking about what is going to happen. We are playing our best cricket.”