There are some whispers these days that Hardik Pandya might be made the permanent future captain of team India. About a year ago, Pandya was supposed to be considered a lousy leader. His place in the XI needed to be determined. He had not enjoyed an outstanding 2021 T20 World Cup, and there needed to be more certainty over his form and fitness. Much of that changed with the 2022 IPL, where he led tournament debutants Gujarat Titans to the title.
Pandya IPL Story
His IPL success, Virat Kohli’s resignation, captain Rohit Sharma’s absence, and vice-captain KL Rahul’s injuries suddenly catapulted Pandya to the leader’s slot. He led India to series wins in Ireland and New Zealand and is now against Sri Lanka at home.
However, a team’s success is sometimes an excellent yardstick to evaluate a captain. The best teams often beat the not-so-great ones, irrespective of who is in charge of which side. However, the conversations around Pandya’s captaincy over the past few days have been beyond India’s success with him at the helm.
One of the hallmarks of Hardik Pandya’s captaincy has been his ability to make the most of the resources at his disposal. Against Sri Lanka, he was entrusted with a squad that had yet to play much together. Yet, it always seemed there needed to be more clarity around players’ roles. A classic example was how Pandya used Umran Malik throughout the series. Malik has built up a reputation for being a partnership-breaker in the middle overs. In 2022, he took 21 wickets in 17 T20 innings during this phase. At the same time, India did not have many powerplay experts, which might have tempted Pandya to use Umran first.
The other impressive aspect of Pandya’s leadership is the confidence he gives to his players. Axar Patel enjoyed a breakthrough batting series against Sri Lanka and was effusive in his praise. He admitted that Pandya had asked him to bat freely without worrying about the consequences. The captain had promised to back him irrespective of what happened. Rahul Tripathi, too, benefited from this vote of confidence when he became the third-oldest T-20I debutant for India at Pune. Promoted ahead of Suryakumar Yadav, Tripathi could only muster 5 runs in his first international innings as the team crumbled to a defeat. When the first wicket fell in Rajkot, Tripathi – after having to wait years to make his debut – could have taken the time, for another failure might have spelt doom. He chose not to.
Pandya Batting Role
Hardik Pandya could have chosen Surya to bat at No.3. That he did not indicate how he wanted the latest player to reprise the kind of batting that has taken him to 940 runs while batting at No.3 in T-20s at a strike rate of almost 149. Even at No.4, he has scored 137 runs across 7 innings. Pandya did not stop there. He made it a point to remember Tripathi’s contributions after the match. He lauded Rahul Tripathi for his intent, even against the turning ball, crediting the phase for changing the game’s tide.
Pandya was also willing to put his boys into challenging situations – uncharacteristic of a new leader. Once, he said at Mumbai, he would have batted first after he won the toss; which goes opposite to what teams have done in evening matches in the recent past at the Wankhede Stadium. He went to a bowl in Pune, where the team batting first led ten matches in IPL 2022. He inspired Axar with the responsibility of bowling the last over in the first T-20; despite dew being a side and Pandya having an over up his sleeve.
Providing players with a long rope, pushing mates to do better; and setting themselves and the others into the centre are features usually associated with seasoned captains. Pandya has already reached that pedestal, despite being selected captain as recently as the 2022 IPL. It also speaks volumes about how he has turned his career around. Now, Hardik Pandya is here, seemingly unrecognisable from the mercurial player who ran into trouble once too often. He has faced the storm and, to an extent, lived through heavier controversies than a significant chunk of cricketers.
As things stand now, Hardik Pandya seems the perfect player to lead India into a new T20I era. Of course, more demanding tests await and bilateral assignments; especially considering how India has stumbled in international tournaments lately; may not be the best indicator of how satisfied he will end up being. But it is also hard not to get excited about India’s newest leader – not just because of how he marshals the troop but also for all that has happened in the past and how the man has evolved – as a player, a person and a leader.