World Cup: Can Hardik Pandya do a Yuvraj Singh this time?
Pandya’s batting at No.6 and his incisive pace bowling will be key for India’s title aspirations, like Yuvraj was in the 2011 triumph at home
In cricket, all-rounders don’t come dime a dozen, and often they have proved to be the difference at ICC ODI World Cups.
Ben Stokes’s exploits in England’s 2019 triumph (batting average 66.42, 7 wickets) are fresh in memory. The last time India hosted the mega event in 2011, Yuvraj Singh was the decisive factor in the victory, emerging Player-of-the-Tournament (batting average 90.50, 15 wickets).
In 1983, Kapil Dev led India from the front with outstanding efforts (average 60.60, 12 wickets). In 1987, young all-rounder Steve Waugh’s inspired form (55.66, 11 wickets) helped Australia triumph. In 1992, Pakistan skipper Imran Khan chipped in with bat and ball (30.83, 7 wickets). All this is proof of genuine all-rounders giving their teams a distinct advantage, providing batting depth and a vital bowling option.
With the game evolving, in 2023 you are likely to find most teams base their strategy on aggressive batting throughout the innings. Having all-rounders gives the cushion against a top-order collapse, to keep going hard till the end.
In search of this balance, India have picked Hardik Pandya, Shardul Thakur, Ravindra Jadeja and Axar Patel; England have Moeen Ali, Sam Curran and Liam Livingstone (Stokes will play only as a batter due to knee problem); Australia are loaded with powerful batters who bowl - Mitch Marsh, Cameron Green, Marcus Stoinis and Glenn Maxwell.
Australia and England are sides with the luxury of seven-eight bowling options in the eleven. South Africa will pin their hopes on the fast-developing pace-bowling all-rounder Marco Jansen and New Zealand on Daryl Mitchell, Jimmy Neesham and Mitchell Santner.
Can Pandya do a Kapil or Yuvraj this time? England’s triumphant 2019 skipper, Eoin Morgan has no doubt the India vice-captain will deliver.
“Just to add to how strong they (India) are... the fitness level of Hardik, his ability to bowl, he bowled a little bit in the Asia Cup but bowled really, really well. There are very few sides in the tournament that are genuine contenders that have somebody who bats in the top six and bowls; that is the old Ben Stokes role we had for years with England. Australia have Green and Stoinis but that role genuinely balances a side. Over the course of the World Cup we will see various pitches and majority of the contending teams have spinners who bat really well, that base is covered, but having Pandya fit and be able to bowl five-six overs of quality bowling in my eyes makes India probably favourites,” Morgan said in a Sky Sports discussion on India’s chances.
PANDYA’S QUALITY SHINES
Morgan’s statement sums up how an all-rounder is seen as a precious commodity, especially the pace bowling one.
In the build-up to the Cup, India’s batters - Shubman Gill, Virat Kohli, KL Rahul, Shreyas Iyer – and strike bowlers – Mohammed Siraj, Mohammed Shami, Kuldeep Yadav – have hogged the limelight.
Pandya’s opportunities with the bat have been limited, but his knock in the Asia Cup against Pakistan in their tournament opener stood out. His 90-ball 87 came against a marauding pace attack with India reduced to 66/4. It wasn’t just about handling pressure, his control made it as good an innings any of the hundreds his teammates scored.
On a Pallekele pitch where India’s batters were distinctly uncomfortable, Pandya negotiated the fiery Pakistan pacers and toyed with their spin attack.
The exploits of all-rounders at World Cups are the stuff of legends because they have risen to the occasion with the bat while their teams are invariably under the pump. Yuvraj’s unbeaten 57 against Australia in the 2011 quarter-final, Stokes turning anchor in 2019 chasing India’s 261 and his 84* in the final against New Zealand. And, of course, Kapil’s epic 175* against Zimbabwe in 1983.
At Pallekele, Hardik’s rescue act with Ishan Kishan has acted as a catalyst. India have looked a different side post that game, routing Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and then Australia at home.
In the way Pandya bowled in the Asia Cup, India realise the need to keep him wrapped in cotton wool and unleash him straight in the World Cup. He was therefore rested for the Australia series. He has been picking wickets while keeping things tight. Countering Hardik is not going to be easy for any batter. He will have to do the third seamer’s job behind Bumrah, and Siraj or Shami, which will give India’s attack a complete look.
So far, he has been used for five-six overs, but Pandya says he is strong enough for 10 overs if the need arises.
“It is more about whatever the team requires. It is more practical calls – how many overs are needed from me. Because if 10 overs are not needed, there is no point in my bowling that many. But if they are needed, then I’ll be bowling,” he had said during the Asia Cup.
WHO WILL DO A YUVI?
All teams have players with more than one skill, but to be a genuine all-rounder you need to be able to bat in a difficult stage and provide breakthroughs in pressure situations. That was Yuvraj’s impact in 2011.
Pandya’s coach and mentor, Kiran More, is confident. “Definitely (he can do a Yuvraj), one who is going to take wickets and score runs. That is going to be the key to India’s success also, a bowler who can take wickets. When you play with a genuine all-rounder - Hardik, Jadeja or Axar - it gives you proper balance, gives the coach and captain a lot of options. With Pandya playing you can play with two fast bowlers and an extra spinner.”
Australia and England too have enough such all-rounders.
Marsh tops the list. He bats in the top-order and is a good swing bowler. He hasn’t bowled in the India series but has been bowling in the nets to be ready for the World Cup. Green waits to explode. England will look up to Curran, to fill in for Stokes as a bowler. Among the spin-bowling all-rounders, Moeen Ali, Ravindra Jadeja, Shadab Khan and Shakib Al Hasan will be the ones to watch out for.
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