Team India has been searching for an excellent white ball all-rounder since Yuvraj Singh, who was mostly out of favor after his poor performance in the 2014 T20 World Cup final against Sri Lanka. Baroda and former Mumbai Indians (MI) all-rounder Hardik Pandya has promised a lot since his limited overs debut for India in 2016. However, injuries and form injuries have hampered his career. Following back surgery in 2019, he could not bowl for the next couple of seasons. His batting too tapered off, and, after a disastrous T20 World Cup campaign in the UAE, he was even dropped from the Indian team.
However, a glorious Indian Premier League (IPL) campaign for the Gujarat Titans (GT) has marked a complete turnaround in his fortunes. He led the side from the front right through the competition and chipped in with key wickets at crucial junctures, including the final. He has continued his brilliant run with the willow and ball since returning to the Indian team. He is a much-improved all-rounder now. His newfound maturity has been displayed multiple times over the last few months as he has won tense games for India.
Game changer at the T20 World Cup?
Winning a T20 World Cup, like the 50-over version, requires a team to have at least one player with an X factor. India lifted the T20 World Cup only during the inaugural edition in South Africa in 2007. They stunned world cricket as a young side led by MS Dhoni was crowned champions. All-rounder Yuvraj Singh was one of the standout performers for Team India during that World Cup campaign. He did not have much to do with the ball since India had a strong bowling line-up.
With the bat, though, his big-hitting was of a different level. His 16-ball 58 against England in Durban, which included six sixes in an over off Stuart Broad, lifted India’s spirits after a 10-run loss to New Zealand. His 30-ball 70 against Australia in the semis, coming against Brett Lee and Mitchell Johnson, was also a spectacular knock. It paved the way for India’s progress to the final, where a team effort saw them home.
If we compare Hardik’s skills with that of Yuvraj, the former can offer much more with the ball, which Yuvraj did at home in the 2011 50-over World Cup. The former has transformed himself into a highly mature, confident batter who knows when to hit the big strokes and when to rein himself in. In short, he is no slogger in the middle-order. Hardik has always had the talent with the bat, but his past shot selection has been questionable. Hardik 2.0 is much more at ease with his game. His ‘don’t worry, I am there’ nod to Dinesh Karthik ahead of the match-winning six against Pakistan in the Asia Cup 2022 was proof of his amazing self-belief in his ability.
All about staying fit and in form
While his batting has been outstanding since his return to international cricket, the knock in the deciding ODI in England also comes to mind; it is his bowling that has been the bigger plus. Hardik lost his place in the team because he couldn’t bowl. He seems to have worked on his fitness and is now getting the ball to zip through to the batters. His three dismissals against Pakistan off bouncers is a case in point. Even in England, he was able to make an impact with his nippy pace.
If Hardik takes his current form into the T20 World Cup and delivers, he would definitely be India’s X factor at the event in Australia. The 28-year-old had a memorable white ball tour Down Under in 2020-21 as a pure batter. He is now set to return to the country as India’s No. 1 white ball all-rounder. A fit, uber confident, and in-form Hardik will definitely spell danger for the opponents.