In what is being seen as an investment for the future, the selectors sprung a surprise on Wednesday by picking Hardik Pandya for the Test series against England.
It isn’t about the 23-year-old getting a break after 22 wickets and 727 runs, a highest score of 90, in 16 first-class games. National selection committee chairman MSK Prasad, while explaining Pandya’s selection, spoke about his attitude and called it a reward for mellowing down.
India are desperate for a pace-bowling all-rounder, and the selectors are hoping Pandya can fit the bill.
For this series, Pandya can share the new ball with Mohammed Shami, which will allow India to play three spinners, and can also be a handy lower-order batsman.
It will be a test of temperament. Pandya has shown a tendency to get carried away by bright lights, and that’s why Prasad emphasised on his improved attitude.
“(Rahul) Dravid has worked hard on the mental side of Pandya’s game. Now Anil Kumble is guiding him,” said Prasad.
“His pace has increased, he is moving the ball, his batsmanship has improved. He has mellowed down as a person. He is one all-rounder we thought is an equally competent bowler and batsman, and a good fielder too.”
It’s been a dramatic rise for Pandya as his elevation comes within 10 months of his T20 international debut.
After the initial success in T20s, he seemed to lose focus and was ignored after a below-par show in the World Twenty20 Cup semifinal. It was followed by a forgettable Indian Premier League season with Mumbai Indians.
The selectors took a chance by including him on the India ‘A’ tour, and this is where Prasad gives credit to coach Dravid in helping him get priorities right, which showed in his impressive performance against New Zealand in the one-day series.
No one knows Pandya better than former India stumper Kiran More. He was six when Pandya joined More’s academy in Baroda. “It can happen to anybody (getting carried away by glamour). Even Virat Kohli faced it at the start. The earlier you realise and learn from your mistakes, the better,” said More, sharing how he had a chat with Pandya on the importance of staying focused when he was struggling.
“He has great potential to become a genuine all-rounder and I think even Kohli is looking at that role.”
“We have three all-rounders --- Stuart Binny, Pandya and Rishi Dhawan. In this series, he scores ahead of Binny, quicker and a better bowler than Stuart. With form and fitness, Hardik is a better option,” said Prasad.
The team management will be hoping they see the right side of Pandya in the Tests and he lets his game do the talking.