It is just 13.3 overs into the Indian innings. Normally the stage of the match where Rohit and Dhawan continue to pile misery on the bowlers. Instead, Pandya comes into bat. He hardly ever gets that many overs to bat on a normal day. But this is not a normal day.
It is the finals of the Champions Trophy. Against their arch-rivals Pakistan. The team that supposed to be knocked out in the group stages. The team whose batting was renowned for not making 300 plus targets.
Instead, the scorecard reads 54-5. The best batting line up had wilted away in spectacular fashion under the onslaught of Amir, who has just recovered from a back-spasm. Rohit Sharma, he the sole possessor of double double-centuries in limited overs cricket, was beaten for pace, swing and almost everything else for nought. The best batsman on the planet, was worked out not once but twice off consecutive balls. Shikhar Dhawan, who has engraved his name in Champions Trophy Hall of Fame, managed to survive a bit longer, but soon nicked one in the corridor of uncertainty. Three batsmen, who had piled up 900 runs between them with a combined average of 90.87, back in the hut for scores of 0, 21 and 5. Game, Set, Match.
14 overs had gone by. The scorecard read 78-0. Pandya is brought into the attack. On a normal day, Pakistan’s top order would have self-combusted in spectacular fashion. But then, this is not a normal day.
The parsimonious Bhuvaneshwar failed to get any swing from the placid pitch, Bumrah failed to get his robotic-precision yorkers and instead started gifting no-balls and wides (3 and 5 respectively) and the spin duo of Ashwin and Jadeja were swatted around the park like harmless flies. The newly famed bowling attack was taken to the shredders.
Pandya brought up his 50 with a monstrous six off Shadab Khan, the third consecutive of the over off just 32 balls. On a pitch that was nothing short of a batting paradise, he was the only batsman who was striking it cleanly from ball one. This was not the typical ‘the-match-is-already-over’ mindless slog but a display of proper power hitting. Maybe, it was a bit too late and eventually it would not have had any consequence on the result but it showed promise of his potential in the days to come.
Pandya was supposed to be the weakest link in the Indian attack. Bogged down by the nagging length of the seamers and the accuracy of the spinners, he was the bowler the opposition targeted. He was introduced only after Kohli decided that he could not hide him any longer.
He hurried the ball, got them to rap on the pads, skirted the outside edge more than once and by the end of his first spell, his figures read 4-0-17-0. Not bad for the fifth bowler. Even as Pakistan kept piling on the runs on a pitch that had literally nothing for the bowlers (Amir and Co. would disprove that later in the day), he kept bowling his heart out. He eventually dismissed Fakhar Zaman getting the centurion to miscue a slog. Maybe it was a bit too late and eventually it would not have had any consequence on the result but it showed promise of his potential in the days to come.
The ODI format is undergoing radical changes in a struggling bid to maintain its relevance. Even the English, who had refused staunchly to change their playing style since the time bowling was done a-la Trevor Chappell, have dusted their cobwebs, and embraced the modern game with explosive batsmen who tee off from the word go. India, on the other hand, largely continues to play percentage cricket with their frontline batsmen taking time to settle before going for the big shots. The only exception being Hardik Pandya who can go bonkers from the very first ball, as was evident in the league match against Pakistan, when he was promoted ahead of Dhoni and Jadhav to do the finishing duties.
India has been on an elusive quest for a seam-bowling all-rounder ever since the days Kapil Dev enthralled the crowds with his deadly out-swingers and fearless hitting. Not to mention the shiny locks and striking moustache that had inspired the fashion sense of an entire generation of cricket viewers.
It is too early to talk of Pandya on the lines of Dev. His flashy chains, tattooed biceps and gelled hair may not have the same effect as Dev. But his cricketing skills definitely show promise.