Hardik Pandya is no Kapil Dev but he can become the all-rounder India needs with time

Ashish Peter 21/08/2018
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Pandya is growing into his all-rounder's role for India.

Ever since the great Kapil Dev hung up his boots in 1994, India has been attempting to fill the void left by the prolific seaming all-rounder to no avail.

Over the years, attempts have been made to shoehorn the likes of Irfan Pathan, Sanjay Bangar and even Ajit Agarkar and Stuart Binny into the role but none of them have been able to give India the balance Kapil Dev provided.

Hence, ever since Hardik Pandya burst onto the international-stage after some exhilarating displays with both bat and ball in the IPL for Mumbai Indians, the comparisons with Dev have been rift and unending.

While his initial exploits came in limited-overs cricket, the 24-year-old’s ability to clear the boundary ropes with ease, athleticism on the field and the ability to bowl regularly above 140kmph has seen him being fast-tracked into the Test team as well.

In the two years or so since he made his India debut, the all-rounder has managed to divide opinions sharply and has earned his fair share of critics.

Of late, those criticisms have been growing with the most scathing of them coming from West Indies great Michael Holding.

“I heard a mention, when I was working in South Africa: ‘he is the next Kapil Dev’. I ain’t going to tell anybody he’s not going to be the next Kapil Dev, but he is nowhere near there yet,” Holding told ESPNCricinfo.

While his abilities with the bat have never really been in question, it is Pandya’s bowling which has let him down at times. He came into the third Test between England and India at Trent Bridge with a bowling average of nearly 40 which is nothing to shout home about.

Pandya has shot back at this critics after his Trent Bridge display.

Pandya has shot back at this critics after his Trent Bridge display.

In the first Test at Edgbaston, Pandya was not even trusted to bowl a single over in England’s second innings. At Trent Bridge, he was only thrown the ball due to off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin having to leave the field with hip troubles.

What followed was one of the best spells of bowling by an India pacer in England. Within 29 balls, Pandya had picked up his maiden Test five-wicket haul as the hosts went on to lose 10 wickets in a session.

It wasn’t a lack of application from the batsmen that had gifted Pandya his five wickets, which included the likes of Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow and Chris Woakes. It was accurate swing bowling at a decent clip that wrecked the English batting line-up.

Pandya had England's best batsmen in a tizzy.

Pandya had England’s best batsmen in a tizzy.

In that one innings, Pandya looked head and shoulders above India’s frontline pacers; Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma. What worked for him was the fact that he was able to get the ball to move sharply both ways at will.

At the end of day two at Trent Bridge, Pandya said: “I never wanted to be Kapil Dev. Let me be Hardik Pandya, I’m good at being Hardik Pandya. I’ve come so far — playing 40 ODIs and 10 Tests — being Hardik and not Kapil Dev.”

Never one to shy away from speaking his mind, the all-rounder does make a very valid point.

For long, India’s obsession with finding the next Dev has seen players like Pathan wilt under the pressure before their careers took a nosedive.

Players in the all-rounder’s role have been put under the microscope constantly and have subsequently been found wanting more often than not.

The Trent Bridge Test is only the 10th of Pandya’s young career so far and nine of them have come away from home. Only Afghanistan’s maiden Test in June this year came at home, while the others have come in Sri Lanka, South Africa and now England.

What Pandya has shown over the course of these 10 Tests is an ability to make a big impact on certain occasions. With the bat, his sole Test ton in Pallekele and his 95-ball 93 in Cape Town come to mind.

With the ball, he has been largely inconsistent but his performances at Lord’s and now Trent Bridge reflect a growing maturity and understanding of his role.

In 2018, Pandya is only behind Virat Kohli among Indian batsmen with the most Test runs (298). That statistic is more a damning indictment of the failure of India’s specialist batsmen, but it does show that Pandya has not been slacking in his task.

One only has to look at the world’s current premier seaming all-rounder in Ben Stokes to judge Pandya’s contribution to the side. The Englishman’s batting average after 44 Tests (33.97) is not too far off from Pandya’s (31.73).

In the bowling department, Stokes averages a decent 33.57. After Pandya’s first inning heroics at Trent Bridge, his bowling average has climbed down all the way to 28.06.

It is true that Stokes has performed over a longer period of time with some memorable performances like his 198-ball 258 against South Africa at Cape Town along the way, but Pandya does have plenty of time on his side to morph into a more consistent all-rounder.

Pandya's numbers are not too dissimilar to Stokes'.

Pandya’s numbers are not too dissimilar to Stokes’.

Having grown up primarily on limited-overs cricket, Pandya has had to make the transition to red-ball cricket without any substantial first-class experience under his belt.

The all-rounder has only played 26 first-class matches in his career so far. By comparison, a 20-year-old Rishabh Pant who made his Test debut at Trent Bridge has already played 23.

Pandya has had to learn on the move in competitive Test matches and the signs are that he is getting better. What he has already proven is that he is a match-winner on his day who is capable of changing the complexion of the game in an instant.

He has his own strengths that he brings to the table and that is the reason Kohli and the team management have persisted with him despite the criticisms and inconsistencies.

As Pandya gains more experience, the consistency is bound to grow and India could yet have that all-rounder they so desperately desire.

For now, they should just let him be and wait for the finished product they envisage in the future.

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Dropping Dinesh Karthik for Rishab Pant at Trent Bridge would be the right move for India

Ashish Peter 16/08/2018
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Dinesh Karthik could be facing the axe at Trent Bridge.

Less than two days remain for the third Test between England and India to get underway and all the signs point towards young Rishabh Pant being handed the wicketkeeping gloves for the visitors at Trent Bridge.

While there is still no telling what team Virat Kohli will pick on the eve of the Test, a potential Test debut for Pant will come as a bitter pill to swallow for Dinesh Karthik.

Things had been looking up of late for Karthik as his heroic showings in the Nidahas T20 tri-series in Sri Lanka along with injury troubles for Wriddhiman Saha paved the way for his return to the Test squad after a gap of more than eight years.

His first innings in the five-day format since 2010 fetched him only four runs in Afghanistan’s inaugural Test but Saha’s long-term injury meant that Karthik was on the plane to England as first-choice wicketkeeper.

What has followed though in England, does not make pretty reading for the 33-year-old. Scores of 0, 20, 1 and 0 have ensued from the bat of Karthik while his glove work behind the stumps has almost bordered on the amateur.

Karthik has struggled massively against the swinging ball.

Karthik has struggled massively against the swinging ball.

Criticism have been directed at Karthik from many quarters but perhaps none of them have been as scathing as former skipper Sourav Ganguly’s.

“I think Rishabh Pant has to come into this side as Dinesh Karthik looks woefully out-of-form. I saw him (Karthik) in the nets and he couldn’t put bat to ball. I think a left-hander in the side will help the team and Pant isn’t scarred by India’s losses and he is also capable of changing the course of a game,” Ganguly said on Sky Sports following India’s innings loss at Lord’s in the second Test.

Karthik has not been the only Indian batsmen to have failed miserably in the Test series so far but given the fact that 20-year-old Pant has been breathing down his neck with some fine performances for India ‘A’ in their recent shadow tour of England, his position seems to be the most untenable of the lot.

Pant’s breakthrough came with a stupendous IPL campaign for the Delhi Daredevils where he blitzed 684 runs in 14 innings at an average greater than 35 and a strike-rate near 163.

While his game seems more suited to the limited-overs formats, he has since given ample evidence that he has what it takes to succeed at red-ball cricket.

In the two first-class matches that India ‘A’ played on their tour of England, Pant registered three half-centuries in his four innings including two against an England Lions attack containing the likes of Sam Curran and Jamie Porter.

Pant has shown he can succeed in red-ball cricket too.

Pant has shown he can succeed in red-ball cricket too.

His ability to translate his limited-overs form to first class cricket earned him glowing praise from India ‘A’ coach Rahul Dravid.

“Rishabh has shown he could bat differently. He has the temperament and skills to bat differently,” said Dravid. “He is always going to be an attacking player, but reading of the situation when one is playing red-ball cricket is required. We are glad he has been picked in the national team and I hope he takes this maturity and builds thereon,” Dravid had told ESPNCricinfo upon the completion of the tour.

At his age, Karthik was never going to be a long-term solution to India’s wicketkeeping hopes and when Saha does inevitably return, it will not be a surprise to see the Tamil Nadu man drop down the pecking order.

Given India’s extreme batting frailties at the moment, a quick-fire 50 from Pant batting at number seven could be gold dust for Virat Kohli and his men.

Such are the dire straits that India currently are in at the moment that a left-field move like bringing in Pant seems like the only viable solution to mend the batting woes.

It would be a tad unfair on Karthik given no other batsmen apart from Kohli have covered themselves in glory but Pant’s unorthodox approach to batting might just be the remedy to India’s current ailments.

Conventional Test batsmen like Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane have hardly been pulling up trees against the moving Duke ball. It might be time for India to finally throw caution to the wind as they look to salvage the series at Trent Bridge.

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Virat Kohli and India paying the price for skimping on tour preparations

Ashish Peter 14/08/2018
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The Indian team management have shot themselves in the foot.

Just two Tests into the five-match series against England, the picture is already looking bleak for team India and skipper Virat Kohli.

Their meek surrender by an innings at Lord’s following their 31-run loss at Edgbaston has left the visitors with a mountain to climb in the remainder of the Test series.

This wasn’t how it was meant to be. Ever since their ascension to the No1 ranked Test outfit following an impressive home record, all eyes have been on how India perform in their tougher overseas tours of the likes of South Africa, England, New Zealand and Australia (SENA).

After India showed some promise in a hard-fought 1-2 defeat in South Africa earlier this year, optimism was abound ahead of their Test series in England. After just two Tests, all that optimism has vanished already and instead been replaced with a familiar sense of doom and gloom in tough overseas tours.

It has been a collective failure from the batsmen which has been the feature of the Indian team so far in the Test series. As all eyes now turn towards the third Test at Trent Bridge which gets underway on August 18, tough questions need to be asked of Kohli and his men.

The most burning question of them all pertains to India’s ill-thought out preparations for such tours. When the team toured South Africa at the start of the year, they bafflingly went into the first Test without playing a single warm-up match to prepare themselves for the three-match series.

Just like in Edgbaston, a defeat that very well could have been a victory ensued in the first Test at Cape Town. One would have thought that the Indian team management would have learned their lessons from that debacle when the itinerary for the England tour was drawn up.

India opted to play just one warm-up game ahead of the Tests.

India opted to play just one warm-up game ahead of the Tests.

However, the fact that the ODI and T20I series preceded the five Tests seems to have been enough preparations for the visitors who opted to play only one red-ball warm-up game against Essex. That four-day game was ultimately shortened to three days at the insistence of the Indian team management.

In contrast, Pakistan had played two warm-up games against Kent and Northampton when they came calling to England for a two-Test series earlier this summer. That was on the back of a historic one-off Test against Ireland at Dublin. Suffice to say, Sarfraz Ahmed’s men were much better prepared for the Test series which the ultimately ended up drawing at 1-1.

The difference in approaches from the two teams was stark. While Pakistan reaped the fruits of prioritizing the warm-up red-ball games, India are paying dearly for their sheer overconfidence.

To bank on the idea that the three ODIs and as many T20Is would have put the team in great stead for a five-match Test series is laughable to say the least if not downright foolish. The visitors are now realising the hard way that the limited-overs clashes are a world away from the five-day format and they have no one but themselves to blame.

India have always been notoriously poor travelers but despite that, there seems to be no change in their approach when it comes to preparations for these tours. They only have to look to the Australian team and their preparations for the 2017 tour of India for a blueprint on tackling tough overseas sojourns.

Kohli and Shastri have only themselves to blame.

Kohli and Shastri have only themselves to blame.

Having been embarrassingly whitewashed 0-3 in Sri Lanka a year before, Steve Smith and his Australia side left no stone unturned ahead of the four-match series against India. The team conducted a hot-weather training camp in the UAE prior to flying to India as they looked to come to terms with the spinning pitches in the subcontinent.

The Aussies ultimately ended up giving a huge scare to the Indian team before narrowly losing the Test series 2-1.

Kohli has always talked about the importance of setting India’s overseas record right but his and team management’s actions have not matched that ambition. Before the start of the Lord’s Test, the India skipper spoke about how the problems plaguing his batsmen are more ‘mental’ rather than technical deficiencies.

Had there been more thought put into the preparations for the series, his batsmen could well have been afforded more time to make those ‘mental adjustments’. Now, Kohli and his men have become the first subcontinent team to lose a Test at Lord’s since their own loss in the tour of 2011 and they only need to look inwards to know the reason why.

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