Match Analysis

Hardik Pandya's perseverance with short ball wins thrilling battle versus Livingstone

The allrounder sent down a barrage of short balls at Old Trafford, and it resulted in his career-best performance

Nagraj Gollapudi
It is like watching two combatants trade punches ruthlessly in the Ultimate Fighting Championship. At one end is Hardik Pandya the bowler. His opponent is Liam Livingstone, the ultimate destroyer of the cricket ball. Pain, if felt, is never shown. Blinking is not an option.
Hardik has just been brought back for his second spell in the series decider at Old Trafford. His first spell of 4-3-2-2 had left England badly bruised. His victims were Jason Roy and Ben Stokes, who had tried to step out of his crease only to fall to a beautifully-planned short delivery rearing towards his throat.
On the second ball of his fifth over - the 35th of the innings - Hardik faces Livingstone for the first time, and sends down a short delivery just outside off stump. Livingstone tries to hook but fails to connect. Hardik responds with a smile. It is the smile of a warrior who has recognised his equal.
Hardik places Ravindra Jadeja on the edge of the boundary at deep square leg. He also has a deep fine leg. There is no subtlety: Hardik is telling his opponent he is going for his head. The next ball is short again at 140 kph. This time Livingstone ducks and returns the smile.
Now Livingstone is ready - he knows what is coming - and unleashes a pull so powerful that the ball smashes through the boards fencing the new stand under construction beyond deep square leg. The fifth delivery is short again from Hardik. Livingstone thinks about another pull, but checks his shot.
One final round remains in the over. Another searing short one - the fifth in a row - from Hardik at 140kph. Livingstone doesn't hold back either, and pulls, only to wear it on the grille of his helmet. Hardik goes up to check on his opponent.
An amber alert has been issued across the UK on Sunday because of the heat wave. It is already hot, and Old Trafford is now simmering with excitement and anticipation.
Before Hardik begins his next over, Rohit fine-tunes Ravindra Jadeja's position at deep square leg, signalling to Livingstone there is more short stuff coming his way. The plan is sound: Hardik is challenging Livingstone to take on the long square boundaries.
The short ball disappears 88 metres over square leg, 12 more than the hit in the previous over. After hitting two of the six consecutive short balls for six, Livingstone steps out of his crease, thinking that perhaps the bowler will change his plan. But he is wrong, and has to duck out of the way of another short delivery.
Is Hardik foolish for persisting with the barrage of short-pitched deliveries? Is he not becoming predictable and losing the battle? At the end of the game, Hardik revealed his mindset to Michael Atherton at the post-match presentation.
"I don't mind getting hit for six sixes as long as I take the wickets," he says. "That's his [Livingstone's] game as well. He likes to take the chances on - some shots which he played I think, as a bowler, can break you."
But Hardik is far from broken. He has been pulled for two sixes, and yet he sends down an eighth consecutive short delivery at Livingstone. The ball is flying towards Jadeja, whose heels are a hair's breadth from the boundary at deep backward square leg. He takes the catch and keeps his balance. Hardik and Rohit are wearing smiles of satisfaction.
"What I have observed about Livingstone is that he likes to take the short ball on, and when someone does that it just gives me goosebumps - either you win that battle or either I win the battle," Hardik said after the first innings at Old Trafford.
"Even after two sixes, I told [the] captain as well: even if I go for four sixes, if I can take one wicket there, obviously it makes a big difference."
And the short stuff isn't over with Livingstone's departure. Two balls later, Hardik sends one down at Jos Buttler, who pulls from outside off towards deep midwicket. Almost everyone at Old Trafford thinks it is going for four, except for the person who has taken a start as soon as the batter rotated to play the shot.
Jadeja runs like a cheetah, covering the ground between deep square leg and deep midwicket in a flash, and dives to complete a stunning catch. While everyone rushes to mob Jadeja, Hardik is smiling once again in the middle of the pitch.
"I always feel that I am shameless as a bowler," Hardik tells Atherton. What he actually meant to say was that he is thick-skinned. Winning the IPL title in his maiden season as captain of Gujarat Titans has allowed Hardik to think and plan differently.
In the first ODI at The Oval, Hardik bowled four wicketless overs for 22 runs. In the second at Lord's, he took 2 for 28 in six overs. And in Jasprit Bumrah's absence in the series decider at Old Trafford, Hardik produced a career-best performance: 4 for 24 in seven overs.
According to Hardik, he found his rhythm days before the second T20I in Southampton, when he bowled in an empty net to rediscover his energy and speed. While he gets joy from bowling fast, Hardik says he is being smart about managing his workload. In the third ODI at Old Trafford, he pitched 27 deliveries short or short of a length according to ESPNcricinfo's data log, giving away only 17 runs and taking four wickets.
"I was smart. I only bend my back or only come out and bowl as quick as possible when required," Hardik said after the game. "If you see couple of games back, I was bowling 130s, 132s [kph] not because I was not able to do it' it was more about that situation. At that time, I felt that that would have been the ideal thing rather than coming and bending the back because they are used to top pace.
"Today, the ground had big sides, and I wanted to focus and wanted them to take on the deep square leg player and the fine leg [fielder], and so that's the reason I kept banging it hard and I was fancying my chances."
IPL captaincy has helped Hardik view his role differently: he is the main allrounder, but now he thinks like a leader. On Sunday, he had left the field briefly to strap his left hand, and as he was returning, he noticed that Rohit was about to bring on Yuzvendra Chahal from the Brian Statham end. Hardik jogged swiftly to take the ball and bowl that decisive second spell.
Hardik's contribution to India's series win, however, did not end with the ball. While Rishabh Pant won the Player-of-the-Match award for his career-best, unbeaten 125 that sealed the chase, he couldn't have without Hardik at the other end. Hardik's calculated and aggressive 71 off 55 balls helped rescue India from 72 for 4, and he became the first Indian player to take four wickets and make a fifty-plus score in an ODI since Yuvraj Singh in 2011.
Hunger, power, bowling smarts and intent define Hardik's game now. The allrounder India have sorely missed for the past few years is now truly back in a vastly improved avatar.

Nagraj Gollapudi is news editor at ESPNcricinfo