With his appetite for wickets and hitting hard, Hardik Pandya has bounced back from controversy and injury to become India’s all-rounder ahead of this year’s Twenty20 World Cup in Australia. Pandya kept his cool with an unbeaten 33, hitting the winning six in the final of a thrilling 148 chase to beat arch-rivals Pakistan to kick off Sunday’s Asian Cup T20 tournament on a high. With the ball in hand earlier, he took 3-25 as he and fellow pace bowler Bhuvneshwar Kumar split seven wickets to mount the victory chase in a packed Dubai International Stadium.
The Indian Express newspaper called him the “new cool king in town” and veteran commentator Harsha Bhogle tweeted that there are “few better than him in this format”.
Pandya’s performance comes as no surprise after he returned from a back injury in May to lead the debutants of the Indian Premier League Gujarat Titans to a fairytale title.
The 28-year-old flamboyant cricketer who loves his tattoos and expensive watches once said he likes to go through life ‘king size’.
Hailing from the western state of Gujarat, Pandya was suspended in 2019 for sexist comments on a TV show and written off as a brash cricketer.
But he has defied critics with his performance on the pitch as a reward for the confidence India’s team management has shown in him.
“Grateful to be given this opportunity and to be able to do this because our process is not just for this but for the coming World Cup,” Pandya told India’s cricket board website after the five-wicket win.
“If we get a situation like that again, we will definitely remember this game.”
He added that he felt “no pressure” when India needed seven from the last one left, even though when Pandya hit the winning six from left arm spinner Mohammad Nawaz there were only two balls left.
– Nice trip –
“The way he has batted and bowled the last few series, I will pray that he performs like that in the World Cup and it will be good for us,” said Kumar, who took four wickets.
Pandya set up an important fifth wicket tie with Ravindra Jadeja as life came around for the player who was stretchered off the pitch in the same location in a 2018 Asia Cup group match against Pakistan.
It was the beginning of Pandya’s struggle with a back injury, which forced him to play mostly as a batsman at last year’s T20 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates.
“I remembered it all. I went out on a stretcher and it was the same dressing room,” Pandya said. “I feel a sense of achievement because of the way things have turned out and the way I’ve been given this opportunity.
“The journey has been wonderful and we have reaped the rewards, but I think the guys behind the scenes (physiotherapist) Nitin Patel and (strength and training coach) Soham Desai should be given credit.”
Indian cricket icon Sachin Tendulkar tweeted: “It came down to fitness of the fast bowlers as they were put under pressure although both teams’ pacers bowed well up front.
“Crucial knocking from Hardik to last till the end and get us over the line and ably supported by @imjadeja & Virat. Congratulations on a nail-biting win.”
Pandya proved his fitness in this year’s IPL with 487 runs and eight wickets in 15 matches, earning him a recall from June’s Twenty20 series against South Africa.
After 66 one-day internationals and 68 Twenty20 matches, a fit Pandya seems to have ended India’s long-standing hunt for a world-class all-rounder.
(This story was not edited by NDTV staff and was generated automatically from a syndicated feed.)