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Dravid enthused by Hardik's return to bowling and hints he might play as finisher for India

Head coach also backs new-look top three to step up in the absence of Rohit and Kohli

Hemant Brar
Hemant Brar
Hardik Pandya is likely to be back in the finisher's role for India despite having a lot of success at No. 3 and 4 for Gujarat Titans at IPL 2022. Hardik was the leading scorer for Titans with 487 runs at an average of 44.27 and a strike rate of 131.26, but according to India's head coach Rahul Dravid, it's not necessary that he will bat in the position for the national team.
"Hardik is a fantastic cricketer with both bat and ball - we have seen that for India in the past obviously," Dravid said. "He has been very successful in white-ball cricket and has shown some really good form in this IPL as well. So it's very pleasing to have someone of that quality that we can choose from.
"Without giving too much away - I'm not going to be telling the batting order before the game starts - but in general, sometimes the role that you play for your franchise matches with the role that you play for India, but sometimes you have to play slightly different roles for different teams.
"And it's not only about Hardik. For all the players, some of the roles they played for their IPL franchises might be slightly different to the roles that we are expecting here based on our team combination."
With little captaincy experience under his belt, Hardik led Titans to the title in their maiden IPL season. From his team-mates to the coaching staff at the franchise, everyone praised his leadership style, especially the freedom he gave his players to express themselves on the field.
Dravid was asked if he noticed any difference in Hardik after the IPL. "I just met him a couple of hours ago," he laughed, "as we had given the guys who played in the IPL final an extra day off at home. So I'm not sure what I can tell you. I just said hello to the guy."
But will he be part of India's leadership group going forward? Dravid isn't concerned about that. He is more pleased that Hardik is bowling again. Hardik picked up eight wickets in the IPL, and on Tuesday, he bowled for about 20 minutes on the centre wicket under the supervision of bowling coach Paras Mhambrey.
"Obviously his leadership was very impressive right through the IPL," Dravid said, "but you don't have to be designated as a leader to be part of any leadership group. At this point of time, it's a good thing from our perspective that he has started bowling again. We know what that does for us, what kind of depth that brings to the side. So really, for us, it's about ensuring that we can get the best out of him as a cricketer in terms of his bowling, his batting, and in terms of his overall contribution."
In Hardik, India will have a familiar face in the finisher's role, but the top order will bear a new look with both Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli rested for the series. Against South Africa, either Ishan Kishan or Ruturaj Gaikwad will open the innings along with KL Rahul.
But over the last few years, even in T20 cricket, it has been seen that India's top three prefer to take their time to settle down instead of attacking right from the start. Irrespective of who bats in the top three, Dravid expects them to be capable of playing all kinds of roles as per the demands of the match situation and the pitch.
"We know our top three's quality. It's a top-class top three that we play regularly. Obviously, we have a slightly different top three in this particular series, but any top three that plays, what we're looking for is good positive starts, and playing what the situation and that wicket demands. If it's a high-scoring game, obviously you want your people to be able to maintain that level of strike rate.
"There could be other situations where the wicket might be a bit more challenging, you might lose a few wickets, you need to adapt, so you need to be able to respond to that as well. But in general, in T20 cricket, you want people to play positively and I think these guys have got that quality. Each one of them can play all of the roles as and when required. As I said earlier, their roles at the franchise level might be slightly different but we will certainly be giving them a lot of clarity as to what their roles are for India, and what our expectations are. And I'm pretty confident that anyone we pick in the top three would be able to play all the roles required, depending on the situation of the match and the pitch."

Hemant Brar is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo