Is Hardik Pandya ready for the biggest ‘Test’ of his life?

Looks like Hardik will share the new ball with Shami at Rajkot

By Atish Home Chowdhury

The reality is stranger than fiction, and Hardik Pandya’s roller-coaster journey from the muddy fields of Baroda to the Indian dressing room proves it emphatically true. For someone having failed his ninth standard exam and spending time on rural fields as a village-level cricketer, Pandya’s ongoing exhilarating glide in the turbulent world of cricket is nothing short of a surreal accomplishment.

The announcement of Hardik’s inclusion in India’s elite XI Test squad for the England series made it amply clear that nothing is impossible if the person has a right composition of talents, temperament, and vigor.

Just within a short span of time, the Baroda lad won a million hearts with his sublime performance with bat and ball. Following a highly successful debut in IPL 2015 for Mumbai Indians (MI), which happened to be the stepping stone for the 23-year-old, last few months have been a fairy-tale journey for the cricketer. In January, Hardik got the selectors’ nod for his first ever T20Is and this month he got a call for the cricket’s ultimate format.

T20s acted as Hardik Pandya’s launch-pad

In his first ever Indian Premier League encounter against Royal Challengers Bangalore the lanky all-rounder smashed 16 runs from just six balls including two sixes for Mumbai Indians. It was enough to make an impact and since then he never looked back. In the following matches, Pandya only honed his skills further to produce even better performances on the field.

In another match in IPL 2015, Hardik Pandya scored a match-winning knock of 21 from just eight balls guiding MI to a fantastic win over Chennai Super Kings. Also, his blitzkrieg 31-ball 61 against Kolkata Knight Riders was an explosive one. He hit eight fantastic boundaries and two sixes in that match-winning knock.

Similarly, who can forget that heart-stopping India-Bangladesh match? In the super 10 clash between the two neighbors, Pandya stole the thunder. Bangladesh needed just 10-run to win in the final over. Some clever bowling by the young all-rounder and astute fielding on the ground by India prevented Bengal tigers from scoring two runs in the last three deliveries.
It gave India a famous nail-biting victory and undoubtedly, Pandya was the last-over hero. Until then he was just known as a batsman who could ball. But after this match, Pandya elevated his status to that of India’s star all-rounder.

Finally, the 2015-16 edition of the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy (India’s domestic T20 league apart from IPL) in which Pandya almost sibgle handedly took Baroda to a title triumph, opened the door for his India selection for the three-match T20 International series in Australia.

Rest is history.

Why Pandya in Test set-up?

In a recent interaction with the media, MSK Prasad, India’s chief selector stated that Pandya’s selection will balance the team.

Definitely, Hardik could be a handy seam option plus a capable batsman down the order.
Initially, Prasad was somewhat circumspect about Pandya’s Test call, but after the latter’s performance against Australia A series in September – all doubts were cleared. Pandya’s well-crafted 79 and satisfactory performance with the ball did the trick and won the confidence of the selectors.

This 55-day tour down-under proved to be a blessing for the all-rounder as he significantly improved his shot selection techniques under the immaculate mentorship of Rahul Dravid. The wall silently chiseled Hardik’s ability to play shot balls and gave vital tips to improve his footworks as well.

Is Pandya a right choice?

Pandya’s much successful ODI debut against New Zealand at Dharamsala last month proved that this Baroda guy always carries luck by his side. Who had thought that a debutant would go on to pick 3 key New Zealand batsmen in his very first encounter with the new ball? He also got a Man-of-the-match for his excellent 3 for 31 spell which helped India win the match convincingly in the end.

Fearlessness is something that’s akin to all successful cricketers. Virat Kohli also proceeded with the same intrepid behavior when he went to his first tour of Australia down-under. Even the likes of Virender Sehwag, Zaheer Khan, Yuvraj Singh and Sachin Tendulkar among other cricketers had that same aggression.

Well, to what extent Pandya will do wonder at longer formats – only the time can tell. But Pandya’s cheerful spirit, out-of-the-box thinking, and cent percent dedication to the game will certainly benefit him in the long run in Test matches.

(Atish Home Chowdhury is a freelance sports writer. He can be contacted via Facebook here)