Krunal Pandya, making a case to be India's second T20I allrounder
With another accomplished performance with bat and ball, he may have leapt above Jadeja, Vijay Shankar and Washington Sundar in the T20I pecking order
Keemo Paul is running in to bowl the first ball of the 20th over. He bowls a full toss, which Krunal Pandya flicks over deep square-leg for a six. The next ball, he stays deep in his crease and lofts a full delivery straight over the long-off boundary.
Those, and another six that Ravindra Jadeja, his partner for the sixth wicket, launched a couple of balls later turned out to be match-defining hits. And following this cameo, Krunal starred with the ball as well, and bagged the match award in India's DLS win.
In November last year, India were in trouble while chasing a modest 110 against West Indies at Eden Gardens, and out came Krunal, on debut. India were 83 for 5 after 15 overs, and with 27 more to get, he took a couple of balls to settle in, and took charge of the chase almost all by himself, winning the match with more than two overs to spare with a nine-ball 21. Earlier in the match, his frugal spell of 1 for 15 in four overs had kept West Indies in check. It was a memorable international debut.
In Lauderhill on Sunday, Krunal's consecutive sixes off Paul came when the pitch had slowed down considerably during the second half of India's innings. He finished with a 13-ball 20, having come in at No. 6 after India's middle order had failed for a second successive match, and day.
Krunal has been a consistent contributor for India in T20Is. Of course, there has been the odd blip - for instance, when he gave away 55 runs in his fourth match, in Brisbane last year, just weeks after his debut. But he bounced back just four days later in Sydney, when he picked up the best T20I figures for a spinner in Australia.
Krunal made his IPL debut in 2016, and his career-defining moment came in the 2017 final, when he established himself as a valuable middle-order contributor with a 38-ball 47, which helped Mumbai Indians recover from 78 for 6 and win a low-scoring game. As a lower-order hitter, partnership-breaker and a reliable wicket-taker, he has been indispensable for Mumbai. At IPL level at least, he is no longer just the lesser-known Pandya brother.
It does not stop there either. Just before the T20Is in Lauderhill, he impressed against the West Indies A team, picking up seven wickets in three games, including a five-for, and scoring a 56-ball 45 in the second unofficial ODI. He bats up the order - usually at No. 3 - for Baroda in domestic one-dayers, averaging 39.22 at the position.
Which is why, on being asked how he is enjoying his role with the bat, Krunal said that it wasn't new to him.
"I guess that role I've been doing for my team in IPL as well," Krunal told the host broadcaster after the match. "I've been playing domestic cricket and, for India A, I guess that's my role and when you bat at No. 6 and 7 sometimes you click sometimes you don't. But it's important to be in a good frame of mind and work on your game.
"So I guess today I was lucky to go there and hit two good shots, I was happy with the way I bowled, especially, because it helps when you score some runs. You carry some confidence to your bowling, so it goes together."
On the two-paced pitch, Krunal kept Rovman Powell and Nicolas Pooran in check just when they had begun building a promising stand in a chase of 168, and snared both of them in the same over.
"This was our second game [at this ground] so I knew the pace of the wicket well," Krunal said. "I was trying to bowl outside off stump to left-handers because the wicket was double-paced. Some were sticking and some were skidding, so I thought I'd make sure I won't bowl in the arc and just bowl outside off stump and that worked."
India's long-standing middle-order issues are now creeping into the T20I side as well, with Rishabh Pant not cashing in on his chances yet in the absence of MS Dhoni. With the T20 World Cup just over a year away, India's main focus would be to hunt for the perfect middle-order fits, one of whom is a second allrounder alongside Hardik Pandya.
At the moment, it seems like Krunal's closest competitors are Washington Sundar, Jadeja and Vijay Shankar. The injury-hit Vijay might get more opportunities when he is back to full fitness, while Jadeja's return to the T20 side hasn't been noteworthy so far. Washington, meanwhile, is yet to prove himself with the bat for India. At the moment, with the kind of performances Krunal has been putting up for all his teams, and his regular inclusion in the India side, it seems like the second allrounder's role is his for the taking.
Sruthi Ravindranath is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo