Handing Hardik Pandya the new ball isn’t a risk India skipper MS Dhoni has taken against New Zealand. There is strategy behind it. Jasprit Bumrah has done well as the first-change bowler too, and the reason for that is the way Pandya has bowled in the first 10 overs.
In Dharamsala and at the Feroz Shah Kotla, Pandya shared the new ball. On Wednesday, India coach Anil Kumble had said Pandya gave them the cushion to experiment. “We have told him to bowl freely and not be in any kind of pressure, even if he gets hit. His speed gives us an added advantage and Dhoni could use him as a main bowler.”
The statement made sense at the Kotla. With New Zealand losing opener Martin Guptill dismissed early, Dhoni knew Kane Williamson and Tom Latham would not go after the bowlers. He could persist with Pandya as he helped the ball get a little old and set the platform for Bumrah.
Though Pandya wasn’t accurate, his speed did surprise the opposition. In the World T20, Pandya was punished by Bangladesh batsman in Bengaluru, though he picked two crucial wickets to seal a one-run win. Now, he bowls a much better length, uses the short ball sparingly and keeps it in the corridor.
Bumrah, who returned figures of 3/35 on Thursday, has always bowled with the new ball alongside Umesh Yadav. But in recent times, he has struggled for control. In the West Indies, he sprayed the ball and was hit for 47 in the first T20, though he picked two wickets. In the next game, he was better, claiming 2/26.
Had Pandya been at Dhoni’s disposal against West Indies in the US, Bumrah could have fared better in the first T20 as he would have got more time to bowl with the old ball. With Stuart Binny struggling, Dhoni had to use Bumrah with the new ball. On Thursday, Bumrah and Pandya bowled 19 overs and conceded 80 runs.
At one stage, when Williamson and Latham looked set to score big, the two made the difference as the Kiwis were restricted to 242 in the end.
Bumrah’s yorkers made it difficult to go after him. Plus, his slower one is deceptive because of his unorthodox bowling action. Pandya handles pressure well at the top, giving Dhoni the freedom to use Bumrah in short spells.
In Dharamsala, Bumrah was introduced in the 10th over and bowled six overs with control. He was then brought on in the 35th and the 43rd overs. Bumrah bowled five spells at the Kotla, and the shorter spells meant he could bowl with energy. He was at his best in his final spell, bowling three overs and taking three wickets.
Pandya’s presence will only help. Usually, it’s Bumrah who bowls at least two overs upfront in T20s, but given Pandya’s form, Dhoni can use Bumrah, India’s best old-ball bowler, at the death.