With his elevation to becoming the India captain for the two-match T20I series against Ireland, the rise of Hardik Pandya the leader has been meteoric. In IPL 2022, Pandya was the gel that kept the Gujarat Titans together in their run to the trophy in their maiden season.
Throughout the tournament, Pandya was leading Gujarat from the front, taking the charge with the bat at either number three or four, something which he hardly got to do in his previous franchise Mumbai Indians.
Pandya was the anchor Gujarat needed with the bat before unleashing his stroke play in the back end of the innings, amassing 487 in 15 innings at an average of 44.27 and strike rate of 131.26. With the ball too, he was chipping in occasionally, with his spell of 3/17 in the final at home ground in Ahmedabad proving to be match-winning.
Mohammad Kaif was also in the Narendra Modi Stadium on the day of the IPL 2022 final and was impressed with what he saw of Pandya the captain. “I was there at the ground for the finals in Ahmedabad. I saw him captaining there live. His field placement was outstanding. He is also a good man-manager because the way his players performed under pressure told me the story of nice vibes around the team.
“He’s backing his players; he was standing at mid-off and was talking to his players, especially to the bowlers when they felt the pressure in terms of bowling in death overs. If you ask me personally, I was very impressed with his captaincy. There are a lot of teams playing the IPL from the very first year (and) have not done what Hardik did: winning the IPL title as a captain in the very first year,” said Kaif in a virtual interaction organized by Sony Sports.
Does Kaif, who represented India in 125 ODIs and 13 Tests, see Pandya’s promotion to India’s captaincy as a reward for captaining and proving his leadership credentials as a Gujarat Titans skipper in IPL 2022? He strongly feels the same.
“When he captained, what I saw as a player was in Hardik Pandya, he’s ticked most boxes in captaincy. Because winning the toss, and seeing the conditions, he was spot-on (with his decision-making). Sometimes he batted first, he chased target, giving the roles to batters as well as bowlers. Also, his form was very crucial, he was batting at three, four; coming into power-play, and batted till the end apart from bowling a few overs.
“Hardik did a good job with captaincy and if you see with Gujarat Titans, you could say they were not the strongest side after the auction. Few other franchises had done a good job. But it’s about how you play and perform on the field on that day. You want to pick the best eleven to win the series (against Ireland). Hardik can do that; he has done well for Gujarat.”
Though Pandya’s role in India’s T20I side requires him to be the lower-order finisher alongside a resurgent Dinesh Karthik, Kaif sees the duo as players who will play a critical role in India’s quest of winning the Men’s T20 World Cup at Australia in October-November. In India’s 82-run win over South Africa at Rajkot, Pandya and Karthik shared a stand of 65 runs off 33 balls which proved to be decisive in the victory for the hosts.
“I have been saying that if you see the top-order, you have lots of players there like Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul, Ishan Kishan, (Shreyas) Iyer. But to finish the game, Hardik Pandya and Dinesh Karthik will be playing a major role as India needs finishers who can play with a higher strike rate.
“So, I see these two repeating the same things again and again. Like they did against South Africa and in the IPL as well, their form will be crucial against Ireland and when they play T20Is against England and then move forward from there. If India has to win the World Cup, they will be playing a crucial role,” said Kaif ahead of the T20I tour of Ireland, which will be broadcast on Sony Sports on June 26 and 28.