Kung fu Pandya, the x-factor in India's World Cup squad
16 matches, 402 runs at an average of 44.66 and a strike rate of over 190. 14 wickets at an average of 27.85 and a strike rate of 18.21. It is often said that a genuine all-rounder is the one who can walk into the team both on the back his batting and bowling. This is exactly what Hardik Pandya has done for Mumbai in the IPL 2019 season and will look to repeat his heroics in the upcoming ODI World Cup.
Pandya might have got a lot of flak for his ethics, following his remarks on Koffee with Karan, but talking purely in terms of the sport, it seems as if the Baroda all-rounder is at the cusp of something extraordinary. While his bowling remains work in progress, Pandya has grown by leaps and bounds as a finisher. He has always had this uncanny ability to hit sixes at will and turn the course of a match on its head, but the wiry cricketer has acquired a lot more consistency over the past year or so.
Leading up to the IPL, the 25-year-old did not have the smoothest seven months of his life as after being out of the Indian team due to an injury, he was hit by the Koffee with Karan controversy and went through a dark phase. While there is no defending the gross remarks that he made, it is also true that Pandya is a cricketer of gifted talent and belongs to a league that you don't get to see too often.
The time off the cricket field, due to injury and then the controversy, would have immensely helped the all-rounder to think about his game and life in general. Sometimes when you are in the thick of the things, you don't realise the privileges that you are being bestowed upon you and end up not giving due appreciation to what life has given you. But when the limelight was taken away from Pandya and he had to spend some time in wilderness, it augmented his hunger of achieving bigger milestones.
"It's been seven months since I played much competitive cricket. Have batted and batted and batted in the nets. Touch wood, it's helping me... The injury happened and then the controversy too. These seven months weren't easy and I wasn't sure of what to do," Hardik said after Mumbai laid their hands on their fourth IPL trophy.
The all-rounder also worked on this game all this while which was evident in this IPL. He has changed his stance and is now taking a middle and off stump guard. Pandya then has a back and across trigger movement which sets him up perfectly for anything in his arc and the swift swing of his willow helps the ball to sail miles over the boundary rope.
India have had several batting all-rounders who could roll their arm over, but the team has always been on a quest for a solid bowling all-rounder ever since Kapil Dev hung his boots. While Irfan Pathan seemed to fit in this role for sometime, he only flattered to deceive. In Pandya, the team has a genuine all-rounder who can actually make a difference on the flat English pitches, where 350 has almost become a par score. Pandya is perfectly suited to give the team the much required impetus in the slog overs.
It only helps that the all-rounder is a big match player and does not get overawed by the grandeur of the occasion. You would remember the promising knock that he played in the final of the infamous 2017 Champions Trophy. In a game that saw India bundle out for a meager 158, Pandya slammed a breathtaking 76 off just 43 deliveries, adorned by four boundaries and six towering maximums.
All former cricketers, both Indian and international, have only good things to say about the all-rounder's performance on the field. 2011 World Cup winners Virender Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh have put their money behind Pandya dishing out something very special in the 2019 edition.
"My goal is to keep performing and hopefully, help India win the World Cup."
What will be encouraging for the fans is that Pandya has his hunger intact despite winning the title for Mumbai. Even in that moment of celebration, he had the realisation that this is not the pinnacle and he has to help the Indian team clinch the World Cup.
So, go on Kung fu Pandya, team up with the Furious Five and destroy the evil forces that threaten the Valley of Peace.