India coach Anil Kumble has said he was heartened by Hardik Pandya's performance with the new ball on his ODI debut, and that the team management would give the allrounder the freedom to bat and bowl without specific instructions. Pandya opened the bowling along with Umesh Yadav in Dharamsala and was responsible for New Zealand's batting meltdown. His figures of 3 for 31 from seven overs earned him the Player-of-the-Match award.
"[Pandya] is someone who obviously gives us the right balance," Kumble said on the eve of the second ODI in Delhi. "He can not only bowl but also bowl at a pretty decent pace as well. [Bowling with the new ball] was certainly the strategy MS [Dhoni] wanted Hardik to try. He certainly has the potential and he showed his potential in the limited opportunities that he has got, whether it be the T20s or in the ODI. With him giving us those seven-eight overs, sometimes even 10, certainly gives us a better balance in the team."
When asked if Pandya's ball-striking ability gave India lower-order insurance, especially with MS Dhoni moving up the order, Kumble said the team backed Pandya to play the way he wanted to. "For someone who is just starting his international career, we don't want to put pressure on him by giving him definite plans as to this is what is expected of him," he said. "He is someone who likes the freedom and that's exactly what we have given someone like a Hardik. Even with regard to his bowling, we have told him to bowl with freedom and not worry about getting hit.
"The moment you start putting pressure saying we want you to bowl six deliveries in one spot… it doesn't work like that in international cricket especially if someone is just starting his international career. So even with his batting, he has all the freedom; it doesn't matter what the situation is when he walks in. I'm sure he'll play the way he wants to play rather than how you want him to play."
Kumble backed Manish Pandey to continue batting at No.4, but said the batting order remained fluid and would change according to the situation. "In one-day cricket it is not necessary that you need to have certain positions fixed as far as batting goes. It all depends on the situation," he said. "So, you could see someone else walking in at No. 4 [depending upon] if we bat first or we bat second. We have a couple of options [for No.4]. Obviously Manish is someone who has done really well in the recent past and he started off well even in Dharamsala.
"He comes into international cricket with solid domestic performance over the years. So that certainly gives him the additional advantage of knowing exactly what to do in different situations. Yes, he is certainly your No.4, but it depends on the situation, you could see someone else walking in at No. 4 as well."
Kumble, however, said Ajinkya Rahane would continue opening the batting through the series, and that it was premature to pencil in a permanent opening combination. "At the moment I think Rahane certainly fits in at the top of the order and that's something that we will persist with," he said. "Yes, it does give us an option once Shikhar [Dhawan] and [KL] Rahul are fit.
"But we will only look at that probably post the England Test series, when England come for one-dayers. Looking at the Champions Trophy, we will then decide as to who will be our opening batting combination and then who will bat at 4, 5, I think all that will come in much later."