During his time as India Test captain, MS Dhoni often lamented the lack of a fast-bowling all-rounder in the lineup. He would manage with a spinner, who could chip in with the bat, or a batsman who could roll his arm over if needed. Many experts felt the absence of a pace bowler who could bat robbed India of the chance to become a complete side.
Over the past decade, India have seen Irfan Pathan come and disappear, Stuart Binny flatter to deceive due to his limited bowling, and Praveen Kumar fail to come close even to the promise he held in domestic cricket of filling that role.
Now comes Hardik Pandya, who has pace and can bat. Ahead of the first Test against England at Rajkot, he appears to hold an edge over Karun Nair for the No. 6 slot.
Though he has played only a handful of long-format games even at domestic level, the selectors have thrust him into the team on the basis of the promise he showed in Australia recently. He scored an important 79 in the second unofficial Test when India A were struggling at 46/6. He also picked four top-order wickets across the two games.
“I think the selectors have picked him because of his all-round ability. They must be thinking he has the ability to become an all-rounder and the presence of one can make the team strong,” former India skipper Kapil Dev told HT on Monday.
Since Kapil’s retirement over two decades ago, no player has even promised he can fill the shoes of the great all-rounder.
Former India batsman, VVS Laxman told HT: “Hardik lends balance to the team. The skill set of an all-rounder, especially a pace-bowling one, is very rare in India. If you identify and find someone having that ability, then it is important to nurture, encourage and mould him and show a lot of patience. You won’t get results overnight.”
Although Kapil feels the choice between Karun Nair and Pandya for the first Test should be made only after seeing the Rajkot pitch, Laxman feels Pandya should be blooded.
“Hardik can bowl 10-15 overs that a second fast bowler gives. And importantly, he bowls at 140 kph and has control over line and length. Also, he adds strength to the batting line-up. I have seen a huge improvement, not just in his skills but also his personality.”
What perhaps will be the key to his becoming a long-term option is managing workload. Kapil says, “These guys play 10 months a year and you are bound to face fitness issues. You pick someone on his ability and that’s what they’ve done with Hardik. They must ask him to work hard. That inspiration comes from within.”