Yuvraj Singh believes Hardik Pandya has the potential to become a "massive asset" for India by the 2023 World Cup, subject to the latter working on his temperament. Yuvraj said Hardik was a "phenomenal" talent and only one of the two current batsmen, along with his Indian teammate KL Rahul, who have the potential to break his record for the fastest T20I fifty, achieved in the 2007 World T20 against England.
"I feel Hardik has the potential (to break my fastest T20I fifty record)," Yuvraj said on Sportscreen's YouTube page. "I feel Hardik is someone who has got amazing talent, phenomenal talent. But probably someone needs to work with his head, where his head is, he is such a hard working guy, he is a nice guy."
Yuvraj buttressed his assertion by pointing to having seen Hardik's amazing ball-hitting skills from up close during his stint with Mumbai Indians in IPL 2019. He cited the example of Hardik's 91 - his personal T20 best - against KKR at the Eden Gardens. Mumbai still lost the game, having been set a massive target of 233.
Yuvraj had even called Hardik's innings "the best" he had seen in IPL, and had told the Baroda allrounder he could be India's lynchpin at the 2019 World Cup with both bat and ball. Eventually, Hardik made 226 runs in the World Cup without a half-century, and picked up 10 wickets. In the semi-final against New Zealand, Hardik made 32 a slog across the line proved to be his undoing.
According to Yuvraj, Hardik still needed to perform in "crunch" moments, which could be achieved by working on the mental side of the game.
"He hits the ball spectacularly," Yuvraj said. "I was at Mumbai Indians last year and he got 90 odd off 30 balls [91 off 34 against KKR], it was a phenomenal innings. He can actually be the next big allrounder for India, but he hasn't performed at crunch times. Those performances haven't come because he is a big hitter and he likes those big hits, but when he starts to know when to take a single and a double, and when to hit those big sixes, then he will actually work as a better player. So Hardik has massive potential to be a world class player. If someone works on his mind, he can be a massive asset till we get to the next World Cup."
Yuvraj further emphasised the need for India to rope in a mental conditioning coach, particularly with a view to help youngsters deal with the intense scrutiny and pressure of the international game. He cited the examples of Rishabh Pant and Prithvi Shaw, who he felt could benefit most from such an appointment. Pant, in a short international career, has already experienced volatile ups and downs scarcely imaginable for a 22-year old, and Shaw, a centurion on Test debut, has served a ban for a doping violation.
During Yuvraj's time, Paddy Upton combined as the mental conditioning and strategic leadership coach, finishing his three year stint in those positions after India won the 2011 World Cup. Yuvraj felt that though India had done well under the current coaching staff, a psychologist was needed to help youngsters cope with the mental side of the game.
"I feel the current players don't have anyone to speak about the mental side of the game to," Yuvraj said. "We have guys like Rishabh Pant, guys like Prithvi Shaw, they are so talented, and obviously unfortunately there's intense scrutiny these days because of the number of media outlets - one game you fail, you feel like you've failed the series. So, there's nobody to talk to them about the mental side - what's going on? How can we get better? Or probably don't do this or do that. Share your experiences. I've been saying for a while, the team needs a good psychologist. But it should be someone the players respect. That's important because there are a lot of young players, and younger players, as when we are growing up, we feel we know more than our parents and coaches."
Yuvraj even questioned whether the Indian coaching staff lead by Ravi Shastri and batting coach Vikram Rathour, while being equipped to deal with the technical stuff, could manage to sort the mental challenges players faced.
"Players have done quite well under Ravi Shastri. They won in Australia, they have done quite well. But my point is - as a coach I don't know how Ravi is - I know that you cannot have a particular way with every player, you have to have a different way with every player. I don't see that with the coaching staff. You have guys like Vikram Rathour, he has been my senior, he has been a mentor at times when I was playing state, but with all due respect, if someone has not played cricket at that level for a long time, the younger generation which is more prone to T20 and 50-over, what are you going to tell them? Vikram Rathour might tell them about technique or how to hit the ball, but there's no one to work on the mental side. The captain can only do so much. The coach can only do so much. That's why I'm saying that you need a psychologist who actually talks to players after a particular session."