Sunday, 7 August, 2022
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If only Hardik Pandya’s on-field feats could match up to his swagger, consistently

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After his best Test bowling performance at Trent Bridge, Pandya’s swagger while answering critics, particularly Nasser Hussain, was a revelation.

Hardik Pandya was the centre of attention Sunday for reasons other than Elli Avram or Esha Gupta, or the several other names he has been romantically linked with. It was not his much-touted pyrotechnics with the bat, usually in the shorter formats of the game. Actually, it was not for any cricketing reason whatsoever.

It was Pandya’s swagger that proved to be a revelation, especially while answering his critics, most particularly Nasser Hussain who was interviewing him. It was in evidence again at the day’s press conference.

On Day 1 of the Trent Bridge Test Saturday, Pandya’s was the last wicket to fall for 18 runs — his fifth on the trot of low scores since his 71 against Afghanistan at home. (On Day 3, he scored an unbeaten run-a-ball 52). Pandya’s only century came more than a year ago at Pallekele on 12 August.

Also read: Krunal and Hardik Pandya to be third brother duo to represent Team India

The next morning saw the last four Indian wickets capitulate quickly to the English seaming conditions, again. At lunch, the English batsmen were comfortably placed at 46/0 on Day 2. But post lunch, Ishant Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah made crucial breakthroughs sending back Alastair Cook, Keaton Jennings and Ollie Pope in quick succession.

It was then that captain Kohli took off Bumrah and threw the cherry to Pandya with Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow at the crease. India did not have the service of its most productive bowler, Ravichandran Ashwin, who was back in the dressing room with a stiff hip. The score read 75/3 with England’s strong batting line-up almost intact. Pandya was  expected to cover up for Ashwin’s absence, and much more than covering up he did.

His first ball fetched Root, brilliantly caught at third slip by K.L. Rahul. In the next 28 balls, the Mumbai all-rounder polished off the English middle-order, claiming four more wickets for 23 runs. At the end of his spell, Pandya’s figures read 6-1-28-5, his best performance with the ball in a Test match.

For three of his dismissals, he shared the credit with Rishabh Pant, another free-spirited cricketer who promises to be in the club of hard-hitting batsman/wicketkeepers such as Budhi Kunderan, M.S. Dhoni, Romesh Kaluwitharana or Adam Gilchrist, per se.

After Pandya’s maiden feat came the interview with former English captain Nasser Hussain on Sky Sports. On the field, Ishant Sharma tutored Pandya on how to hold the ball up for the galleries after a mighty bowling feat. Off the field, Pandya’s swagger along with a deep baritone, that strikingly belies his sinewy frame, totally outclassed the Essex man’s prim and propah English.

At one point in the interview, Hussain asked Pandya about critics coming down heavily on the all-rounder for not performing in five Tests on the trot and still being included in the team. Last week, West Indies fast bowler and commentator Michael Holding had this to say about Pandya.

“I don’t think he does a lot with the ball. Does not have control and consistency to put a batsman under pressure. He’s not there yet. I am not gonna tell anyone that he won’t get there, because he is a young man. But he is not there yet,” Holding said after India lost the Test at Lord’s.

Here was Pandya’s reply to Hussain:

“I will simply say one thing. Let’s not worry about me. I know what I am exactly doing. My team backs me. That’s what matters. And to be honest I don’t care what people say.”

Also read: Cricket’s back with BCCI after two-year drama. What was the point, Your Lordships?

The response showed extreme self-confidence, with plenty of swag on display. It reminded one of the Windies great Sir Vivian Richards, who was famous for his unique gum-chewing, nonchalant demeanour on the field.

But then in cricket, comparisons come as quickly as the fall of Indian wickets at the Lord’s Test.

“I heard mention in South Africa that he’s the next Kapil Dev. I ain’t gonna tell anybody that he’s not gonna be next Kapil Dev. He’s nowhere near yet,” said Holding of Pandya.

Unlike Richards, Pandya’s swagger is yet to match his consistency on the cricket field. But Pandya’s answers to Hussain surely deserve a hearty song request. And it has to be the recent hit Wakhra Swag Ni by singer-rapper Badshah and lyricist Navv Inder.

Hussain summed up the interview complimenting Pandya on his crisp haircut.

“As always,” was the Indian all-rounder’s reply.

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