When you talk of Indian all-rounders, the first name that comes to mind is Kapil Dev. If the world-cup winning captain breathed life and fire into the Indian team of the 1980s as a rare fast-bowling all-rounder, Hardik Pandya is carrying that legacy forward in the current Indian team.
During an absorbing virtual session at the inaugural HT NXT Summit, the past and present stars delved deep into the role and experience of being both fierce pacers and explosive batters, in an absorbing conversation with senior sports journalist Ayaz Memon.
“It’s not pressure, it’s pleasure,” Dev said about the all-rounder’s dual role. “If a batsman suffers twin failures, imagine the pressure? An all-rounder if he fails in batting, he can make up by picking up wickets. I enjoyed doing something extra on the field, batting, bowling or fielding.”
Dev pointed out that one of the thing he enjoys the most about watching Pandya play is the commitment he puts in as a fielder as well.
“If you have 11 fielders like him, we can’t lose match,” Dev said.
Pandya, who revealed that Dev was one of his biggest cricket heroes growing up, said that he picked up bowling as “luck by chance”, during a match for the Baroda U-19 team on a green pitch when the squad was missing its fast bowlers.
“For me, batting holds a very special place in my heart. I love to see the ball go in the air and I enjoy doing that,” Pandya, one of the biggest hitters in cricket right now, said. “But now I have started to enjoy my bowling more as well because I am able to execute things which I am working on. Now I love batting and bowling equally.”
At the T20 World Cup in October that twin skill set of Pandya’s will be key to India’s chances.
While a genuine all-rounder is highly sought after in any format of the game, in T20s, teams usually pack their playing XIs with people who can both bat and ball—a cursory scan through the recently named squads for the World Cup is evidence of that preference. For India, it’s Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, R Ashwin and Axar Patel.
“For a captain, two all-rounders are very important— a batting all-rounder and a bowling all-rounder,” Dev said. “Ninety per cent of all-rounders are batting all-rounders, like Hardik. If a captain has two all-rounders then in T20 cricket, he has two players who can take the responsibility of the team.”
The former India captain compared the current team with Sourav Ganguly’s one-day side and felt it’s also useful to have batsmen who could chip in with a few overs.
“Even Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly could bowl a few overs even though they were the main batsmen,” he said. “But if you are like Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma who don’t bowl at all, then it is difficult in T20. Everybody should try to bowl a few overs in T20 to keep the rhythm going.”
Dev said the competition among the all-rounders in the Indian T20 team makes it better.
“If you have competition of the highest level it does help,” he said. “I will say Ravindra Jadeja is one of the finest all-rounders and the same with R Ashwin. When you have those type of players in the team, a captain gets the option to pick a better team. Competition gets the best out of everybody.”
Pandya, who has already endured a long injury lay off in his career, said that no matter how much he wants to be in the middle, sometimes the reality is different.
“Obviously I want to play all the matches possible. I always play for the team, but I have started to accept the fact that sometimes I won’t be around because of injuries,” Pandya said. “That’s why my process keeps me motivated, because even if a setback comes, I always think about the process and that process excites me to come back and become better than what I have been before I got injured. I also understand the fact when I am there, things are different—we can play an extra batter or a spinner or one more fast bowler.”
At the T20 World Cup, Pandya is going to be the key to India’s chances. Being a pace bowler-batsman, he provides the balance to captain Virat Kohli.
Going ahead, Pandya sees the white-ball game getting even faster and bigger scoring with teams following England’s template of almost non-stop hitting.
“With time, the game will go more fast,” he said. “How England are playing, that’s how teams will play.”
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