In any context, 14 runs required for victory from the last over of the game is a difficult proposition for any batsman in the game.
When Hardik Pandya squared up against Australia debutant Daniel Sams in the same scenario in Sydney on Sunday, victory seemed inevitable.
In the end, India coasted to a series clinching victory after Pandya’s mighty blows at the Sydney Cricket Ground saw the target attained with two balls to spare. It is testament to the India all-rounder’s sublime form on the tour that the result looked like a forgone conclusion, even before Sams was assigned with the responsibility of sending down the final over.
Two scores in the nineties in the preceding ODI series had already signalled Pandya’s rising maturity in a finishing role, and he confirmed his credentials as the man for the job with his 22-ball 42 in Sunday’s clash.
“The reason for Hardik coming into the team in 2016 was pure ability. He has raw talent,” winning skipper Virat Kohli told the broadcasters after the game.
“And now he realises that this is his time, the next four to five years, to be that bankable player that can win you games from anywhere. His plans are right and I’m glad to see that.”
Ever since Pandya was fast-tracked into the national team on the basis of his IPL displays for Mumbai Indians, India have been hoping for him to become their destructive match-winner lower down the order. Glimpses of that ability have come sporadically in the last four years, most notably in India’s crushing loss to Pakistan in the 2017 ICC Champions Trophy final in London.
In a devastating defeat where no other Indian batsman crossed 22 runs, Pandya toyed with the Pakistan bowler in an exhibition of clean hitting at The Oval. Six sixes and four boundaries in a 43-ball knock from his bat were unable to save India’s blushes on the day, but were enough to vindicate the potential of Pandya’s raw talent.
Unfortunately for the Men in Blue, those moments have been few and far in between for Pandya in the years to follow. Two ODI half-centuries and a couple of quick-fire 30s in the T20I format were all Pandya had to show before the Indian arrived in Australia for the ongoing tour.
"Hardik Pandya played like MS Dhoni today," reckons Australia's head coach #JustinLanger, while sharing his thoughts on Indian all-rounder's knock in the 2nd T20I at the SCG.#AUSvIND #HardikPandya #MSDhoni pic.twitter.com/UJvYx48Lz5— Cricbuzz (@cricbuzz) December 6, 2020
His unbeaten 92 in the third ODI and Sunday’s superb showing have both culminated in India victories and have earned him his fifth and sixth Man-of-the-Match awards in international cricket respectively. Ever since MS Dhoni’s hitting powers declined, clearing the boundary ropes with regular precision in the death overs has proven to be a difficult task for India’s middle-order batsmen.
In a lopsided batting order that is heavily dependent on the top three, the want for a reliable finisher has been clear for some time. Pandya’s performances in the limited-overs clashes against the Aussies, Pandya indicates that India might have finally found their man for the job.
“We know how dangerous he (Pandya) is. In the past we had MS Dhoni and the way he (Pandya) played today,” Australia coach Justin Langer said in the post-match virtual press conference.
“He has played really well all summer so, obviously it was a great innings in the end there.”
The occasional flashes of brilliance are now starting to translate into consistency, and that will be a frightening prospect for any of India’s opponents in the coming months. Brute force combined with a dash of consistency in this particular role is a deadly concoction, and is one that is rare to find at the international level.
There are the likes of Andre Russell and Kieron Pollard who have caused similar destruction in franchise T20 cricket, although even they have struggled to do it consistently at the international level. As such, Pandya coming into his own is excellent news for India ahead of the two upcoming T20I World Cups.
According to cricket analytics site CricViz, only Jos Buttler and Glenn Maxwell have scored runs more quickly than Pandya in the last two years among all batsmen to have faced a minimum of 400 deliveries. That is exclusive company Pandya himself in, alongside two of the most destructive batsmen in the modern era.
Having recently turned 27, he is entering into his peak years as both a batsman and an athlete. Despite having endured a serious back injury last year, there is no reason why Pandya cannot continue to rack up similar numbers in the years to come for India.
His displays for champions Mumbai Indians in the latest IPL edition in the UAE were of a similar nature, with Pandya striking at a rate of nearly 180 over the course of the campaign. It was the IPL where Pandya shot to fame initially, and we are now finally starting to see the same player in the India blues.
His extraordinary hitting will be difficult to sustain in the next few years, but there is no doubt that Pandya’s mere presence at the crease will now invoke fear in the eyes of bowlers around the world.