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Interviews

Krunal Pandya: 'Numbers don't always justify what you have done. What matters is that you're there for the team'

The India allrounder talks about his last few IPL seasons for Mumbai Indians, his place in the batting order, and winning matches with his bowling

Krunal Pandya has won a handful of T20Is for India and was the Player-of-the-Series against West Indies in 2019, but he has not been part of the T20I squad since playing Sri Lanka in July last year. He also didn't fare well in the last two IPL seasons and was released by Mumbai Indians, who in 2018 had used their right-to-match card to buy him for Rs 8.8 crore (then US$ 1.37 million approx). But Pandya says being released by Mumbai does not hurt him. He has put himself up for the 2022 auction at the highest base price: INR 2 crore ($268,000 approx).
In the following chat, Pandya speaks candidly about why things have not worked out for him in the IPL in the last two years, but also why he retains the belief that he can still do wonders in the IPL and for India.
Do you believe you are among the top allrounders in Indian cricket?
Yes, I certainly do. Six years playing for one franchise, 84 games, 1143 runs and 51 wickets.
I did not expect to be here at this point in my life. If someone would have told me [in 2016] that six years down the line I would be here, I would have said: you are joking. Not possible. Always grateful where I am in life, but at the same time my focus has always been on how I can be better.
How do you sum up your last few seasons in the IPL?
My role was very different in the last two seasons at Mumbai compared to the first four.
Between 2016 and 2019, I had a certain number where I used to go [in to bat] every time more or less. And then in the last two years, my role changed where [Kieron] Pollard and Hardik [batted ahead of me] as they are two of the biggest hitters [Pandya batted at Nos. 5 and 6 in 27 out of 48 innings between 2016 and 2019, and at No. 7 in 14 out of 24 innings since 2020]. So my role was changed for the team's benefit.
Numbers don't always justify what you have done, but what matters is: Are you there for the team? Are you taking that responsibility? Are you doing the hard job for the team? And I did.
Between 2019 and 2021, you have batted at different positions between Nos. 4 and 7. When you play at 7, your strike rate is the best, at 148. At 4, where you have played only three times, your strike rate is about 138, and at 5 and 6, it's 96 and 103. Which position do you find most comfortable to bat in?
When I have batted at 5 for Mumbai, I usually walked in when we were 30 or 40 for 3, where we lost wickets in clusters. [These were situations] where I have to go and build a partnership and make sure we don't lose any wickets. When I batted at 4, I had the liberty to express myself and I knew clearly whether we were 0 for 2 or 100 for 2, I'm going to bat at 4. So the mindset was very clear and I got that performance.
Like last year when I batted at 4 against Rajasthan Royals [Pandya made 39 off 26 balls and had 63-run partnership with Pollard] and Chennai Super Kings [he made 32 off 23 and had an 89-run partnership with Pollard] and we won both games - I had the time where I could play my game, play those [first] ten balls and then build.
But at No. 5, I have to think what is required for the team because we had two power-hitters. We had to make sure to give the right platform for Hardik and Pollard to go and excel from ball one. I felt I have done the right things for the team. Sometimes the result does not go in your favour, but as long as the process and intent is right, I am happy.
What are your impact innings since 2019 that come to mind?
Against Sunrisers [Hyderabad in 2020], when I scored 20 off the last four balls. We won that match.
In 2018, the ten-ball 33 against Punjab Kings; in 2021, where I batted at 4, I played the crucial knock against Chennai, where we lost back-to-back wickets and then I had a partnership with Pollard before he played a blinder.
So there have been quite a few knocks that were crucial for the team. But my role used to fluctuate.
Even at a new franchise, your role is going to be similarly fluid. What do feel is your natural role in the batting order?
I can bat at any number from three [onwards]. In fact, I have batted only once at No. 3, in the 2016 IPL, when I made a 37-ball 86 [against Delhi Daredevils] - my highest score in the IPL. After that I have never batted in that position.
I'm not someone who prefers only one number, but if I have a continuous role [in one position] that makes it easier for me. We [Mumbai] were lucky we had two of the best finishers in our side. Automatically my role had to be fiddled with - I had to complement Hardik and Pollard when they went before me and I used to bat at 7. If we lost wickets early, I went in at 5 to make sure I gave them the right platform.
If I am not wrong, I batted 92 balls in 16 games in 2020 [scoring 109 runs from 12 innings at a strike rate of 118.47] and 123 balls in 2021 [143 runs from 12 innings at 116.26]. It is difficult to analyse with such numbers. There should be some realistic numbers to analyse yourself by. It is difficult to justify your own performance with numbers.
I am absolutely open [to any role in a new team]. I have finished games for Mumbai batting at No. 7. I have done the anchor role at No. 5 and done it well. I can recall a game against Punjab [in 2020] where we were 38 for 3 when I went in in the sixth over. I had a partnership with Quinton [de Kock] where I scored 34 in 30 balls. From there, Polly did what he is known for in the last five big overs.
Now Polly is in Mumbai and Hardik is with Ahmedabad [one of the new franchises], so [hopefully] I will get more opportunities.
In terms of your bowling in the IPL, since the 2019 season, your economy of 7.57 is the second-worst and your average is the highest among spinners who have bowled at least 100 overs. Franchises will keep an eye on that. Does that bother you?
Not at all. My role at Mumbai was to contain [runs], because we had wicket-taking bowlers around me. In the process I did not realise where I went too far [with my release point], where my stride got longer and where I used to dart the ball. If you see my economy, it has always been around 7.5, and I have bowled a lot at the Wankhede [one the smaller grounds].
In the last two seasons my role was to defend. At the same time, I have bowled that sixth over, the toughest over in the powerplay [Pandya has bowled 33 overs in the powerplay across the last three seasons]. I have also bowled the second or third over.
Like, when we played Sunrisers and I scored a four-ball 20, it was a flat track. I bowled two overs in the powerplay to [David] Warner and [Jonny] Bairstow [Pandya bowled the third over of the powerplay and then the seventh] and then I bowled the [11th and] 15th.
What I am trying to say is that impact is more important than numbers sometimes. Numbers don't justify what you have done.
Last year against Punjab Kings, I bowled three overs on the trot in the powerplay for 16 runs. That created very good impact where we won the game. Being such a long tournament, there will be off days and you will bowl badly.
"Krunal Pandya will win you games - 100%. It is not me being over-confident or cocky. It is just self-belief"
Have you reached a stage where you are confident you can win a match single-handedly based on your batting or bowling performance?
I have played 19 T20Is for the country. I have been Man of the Match in Australia, in New Zealand, Man of the Series in West Indies. People talk about my bowling action, but [all] three of my match awards, all overseas, have come due to my bowling performance. So I have won five or six games on my own, but like I said previously, I want to be more consistent.
What was your last Player-of-the-Match award in the IPL?
2017 IPL [final].
Does it hurt not having won any since then?
There have been instances where I went close but did not get it (laughs). Everyone wants to be the player who has that award. But, honestly, not really.
One thing I know is: my best is yet to come. And I feel it is going to come very, very soon. I'm well prepared. I'm in a great zone. Just a matter of time. Because every cricketer has a phase where things go as he wants, so I want to be so, so ready for that phase where I grab it not with both hands, but with my entire body and make the most of it.
In 2018 you were an uncapped player. You put your base price at 40 lakhs and were bought by Mumbai for Rs 8.8 crore. Since then you have played for India. Now you have put your base price at 2 crore. How did you decide on it?
I did not think much. I felt like I can put the highest base price. In fact, when I was uncapped [in 2018] as well, I had put myself in the highest price. There was a slab of 10, 20 and 40 lakhs for uncapped players. The thought process remains the same: highest base price.
So you have that belief?
My journey has been very, very different compared to other cricketers. I played the IPL at the age of 25. In the Indian circuit, if you are good enough, you eventually make it at 21, 22, 23. Throughout my life I have had lot of rejections in a way, but the only thing that has taken me this far is what I think about myself.
When I played for Mumbai Indians for the first time, I had played four List A games, 15 T20s and no first-class matches. I still remember when I got picked by Mumbai for 2 crore, Hardik was on my head saying: "You have to do well, you have got this much money." I said, "Chill, I'll do well." And it's been six years. I feel the most fit right now in my career.
In 2019, I felt there was a lot of negativity in my mind. Everyone goes through a phase where you start doubting yourself. I realised there are so many things in your head and I was trying to search for what I want and all that.
I saw this book called Power of Positive Thinking. That book helped me, making me realise the mind is amazing, and suddenly my point of view was different. Then I read Power of Your Subconscious Mind.
Reading these books has helped me massively. Every individual thinks he has a barrier, where he can do the things that are controllable but outside that barrier it is impossible. But imagine if you take that barrier out and see the world with new eyes. That's what has happened to me where I have removed that barrier and I can be among the best.
Why should a franchise put big money on you?
Krunal Pandya will win you games - 100%. It is not me being over-confident or cocky. It is just self-belief. I am a team man. I always play to win championships.

Nagraj Gollapudi is news editor at ESPNcricinfo