'Where's the Hardik who scored 92 vs AUS?': Madan Lal on Pandya vs Bumrah for VC | Crickit
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'Where is the Hardik who scored 92 vs Australia?': Madan Lal after Pandya retained as Asia Cup vice-captain over Bumrah

By, New Delhi
Aug 22, 2023 05:21 PM IST

Former coach Madan Lal pointed out that for India to make the most of Hardik Pandya's potential, his batting form needs to flourish anew.

Think of Hardik Pandya the batter and what comes to mind? Could it be his swatting of sixes against Shadab Khan and Fakhar Zaman that gave India a microscopic speck of home in the 2017 Champions Trophy final? Or bludgeoning a century off just 86 balls against Sr Lanka in only his second Test match barely two months later? How about the fact that his 33-ball 63 at a strike-rate of nearly 200 propped up India against England at last year's T20 World Cup semifinal, or that last IPL? Or that he became the fastest Indian to smoke 100 IPL sixes? Remember that composed knock of 71 against England, which proved pivotal in restoring parity for India after their top order had been decimated to a mere 72/4 in an ODI in 2022? What about the merciless manner in which he took on Australia's bowlers, en route to 71 off just 30 balls to light up Mohali's PCA Stadium?

Madan Lal (R) is concerned about Hardik Pandya's batting.(AFP/CEAT)
Madan Lal (R) is concerned about Hardik Pandya's batting.(AFP/CEAT)

Collect those thoughts, wrap them up in a piece of satin… and let them dry. The Hardik that once struck fear in the minds of the bowlers has become more elusive in recent times. Once in a while, he will freshen up memories of his 2017-2018 self with a swashbuckling innings – such as his recent knock of 70 off 52 balls with five sixes against West Indies. However, in the wake of recording merely two ODI half-centuries since August of the previous year, and a solitary one in T20Is since November, maybe it's time for some introspection.

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And if his batting woes weren't concerning enough, India's series defeat to the 7th-ranked West Indies, has fetched Hardik endless flak, reminiscent of the backlash he faced in 2019 for the infamous TV show fiasco. Following triumphant outings where he guided India to victories in New Zealand and at home against Sri Lanka, bolstered by highly successful stints with the Gujarat Titans in the IPL, Hardik was hailed as the natural successor to Rohit Sharma. However, certain tactical decisions have cast a shadow on his reputation. Instances like not giving Yuzvendra Chahal a fourth over in the 2nd ODI, promoting himself up the batting order and failing to get India over the finish line, and even the frivolous dispute over denying Tilak Varma a half-century, golden boy Hardik transformed into a villain in the eyes of the Indian public… all in a span of 10 days.

However, both the BCCI and the team management hold a differing perspective, and their stance became unmistakably clear when they chose to retain Hardik as India's vice-captain for the Asia Cup over the returning Jasprit Bumrah. Contrary to reports surfacing during the build-up of the Asia Cup squad, the BCCI trusted Hardik despite the outside noise, making it evident that he is right up in the pecking order, poised to assume leadership responsibilities when Rohit steps aside. Some were surprised, while the decision prompted nodding agreements from others, including former India all-rounder Madan Lal. However, underscoring an important factor, the former coach pointed out that for India to make the most of Hardik's potential, his batting form needs to flourish anew.

"See, he definitely could be the next captain, the way he is going about leading in T20Is. But my concern is not that. Hardik has to perform. He is so talented and has done well, but where is the Hardik Pandya that scored 92 against Australia? That sort of form I want to see Hardik in," Lal told Hindustan Times on the sidelines of the CEAT Awards.

The innings Lal is referring to is the one Hardik unleashed during India's 2020 tour Down Under. Playing his first ODI for India since World Cup 2019, Hardik scored 90 against Sydney and two matches later, followed it with an unbeaten 92 at the Manuka Oval. The Canberra knock in particular, was sweeter as India emerged victorious by 13 runs, although here is a telling stat. His T20I strike rate in the middle overs is 106.3, and 119.3 in death, very unlike Hardik. The slowdown may not be attributed to any one specific reason but it is a possibility that the levers have altered because of the anchor role he plays for GT. Somehow, Hardik's fluidity seems to have diminished, giving him a slightly rusty appearance on the field.

'Glad to see Hardik back bowling full-time again'

Batting apprehensions aside, Lal is elated to see Hardik bowling at full tilt. Last year, Hardik became the first India all-rounder to score a fifty and take 4 wickets in an ODI since Yuvraj Singh in 2011, and while it's unlikely that he will be tasked with bowling all 10 overs in the Asia Cup, the prospect of Rohit utilising him for five overs, with the potential of extending to a sixth or even a seventh depending on the match dynamics, augurs well for India. This approach would leave India well-prepared and fully equipped when the World Cup arrives.

"At the same time, I am very happy that he is bowling. We need him bowling in the World Cup as that sixth bowler. They have given him a very important role and Hardik has to ensure that he does well," added India's 1983 World Cup winning all-rounder.

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