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Hardik Pandya: unflustered, indifferent, and the gold standard for an allrounder

He can play as a batter or as a bowler alone and is not afraid of failure: in short, he does what no other T20 cricketer does

Sidharth Monga
Sidharth Monga
You can't think of sneaking in an easy over when Hardik Pandya is at the wicket  •  ICC via Getty Images

You can't think of sneaking in an easy over when Hardik Pandya is at the wicket  •  ICC via Getty Images

In February earlier this year, the India selectors anointed Rohit Sharma as India's Test captain, to go with both the limited-overs formats, and dropped Ishant Sharma, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane and Wriddhiman Saha from the Test side. In a rare occurrence, Chetan Sharma, the chairman of the selectors, took questions from the media after the announcement.
A lot of it revolved around the big changes and the new appointment, but one question was not a question at all; it was an inflammatory statement. The gist of what the reporter said was this: nobody - including the selectors - knows what Hardik Pandya is up to, he doesn't play domestic cricket, he will be miraculously fit come IPL, he will score runs, and based on that he will play the World Cup.
Chetan's response didn't speak of a roadmap for Pandya, but instead asked the reporter to call Pandya to check for himself why he was not available for domestic cricket. It might suggest Pandya was not in touch with the selectors either. However, Chetan did go on to ask the reporter to not undermine what Pandya had done for India.
The general import - not restricted to just the reporter - was clear: Pandya is a brat, he cares only for the IPL, and he is above general conventions of selection. He had played the last T20 World Cup purely as a batter, but the selector asked the reporter to not presume that runs will be enough to get Pandya back into the team.
Pandya went on to bowl 30 overs in the IPL this year, and also scored 487 runs. Any questions over Pandya's selection were not asked again. When fully fit and mentally confident in his fitness, Pandya is a cricketer unlike any other in T20s. There are other seam-bowling allrounders of course - Australia had three in this World Cup; there is Ben Stokes, Jimmy Neesham, Jason Holder among others - but neither of them can play as a batter alone or a bowler alone.
But Pandya comes closest to that gold standard for an allrounder: he can play as a batter only, or as a bowler only.
Shiva Jayaraman of ESPNcricinfo puts numbers to this in case you don't believe that statement. In matches between Full Members in the last year, on an average, Pandya has been involved in 27.5 balls every match. Pandya is No. 7 on the involvement numbers, but all others in the top ten - bar Mohammad Rizwan and Holder - are spin-bowling allrounders, none of whom can play purely as a batter or a bowler. Holder, again, is more of a bowler who gets to bat more than he should in the West Indies side.
In the IPL, Pandya was contesting nearly 37 balls per match. In this World Cup, he has been involved in 30.8 balls per match.
Take your minds back to India's opening match in the ongoing World Cup. Both India and Pakistan's innings followed similar patterns. After tough starts, both sides went after left-arm spin in the 12th over, and made use of the short straight boundaries. When Pakistan attacked Axar Patel, India went to Pandya. When India attacked Mohammad Nawaz, Pakistan had to hold back his last over till the end.
Later in the tournament, Pakistan had to breach this gap with the inclusion of Mohammad Wasim, who is a steady bowler, but whose batting average and strike rate are 18.44 and 122.05 respectively across all T20s. In T20Is, he goes at under a run a ball.
Structurally, Pandya's bowling fitness is perhaps the biggest difference between India at the last World Cup and India now. In these conditions, the spinners' role has been diminished, which calls for an allrounder who is more than a placeholder.
Pandya has not just contested as many balls as he has done, but also done so properly. You can't think of targeting him as a bowler or sneaking in an easy over when he is at the wicket. His pace has been high, his bouncers have been difficult to hit, he has picked up eight wickets, and he has bowled at difficult times, including overs 13 and 15 in a 16-over innings against Bangladesh when they threatened to cause an upset.
If the selectors do make an allowance for Pandya, it is plain to see why. He does what no other T20 cricketer does. On top of that, he does something extremely unnerving for an opponent: he is not afraid of failure. Possibly, this is why he has become the T20 cricketer that he has.
Even if he is, he can put up a pretty convincing act of not caring about the results. During the Pakistan match, he was telling the dugout he didn't care if India lost; they played a good game, they lost - it happens.
A player with nothing to lose is an opponent's nightmare. It means the player can perform to the best of their ability without any self-doubt. Pandya has had self-doubts, but they came through injuries and his inability to trust his body fully on comeback. Two days before India's semi-final in this T20 World Cup against England in Adelaide, Pandya was one of the three players to turn up for optional training.
All the bowling training didn't involve a ball. He just simulated his run-up, the jump to the side, and the completion of the follow-through. This is a man at peace with his body, not one who has been let down at crucial times in the past.
On this trip there is a certain calmness to Pandya. The way he doesn't get flustered by the match situation, the way he prepares, and the way he talks to those outside the team bubble: his indifference for results will face a sterner test in the finals week of the World Cup amid all the noise about knockout matches. This is when all the preparation, all the change in philosophy, all the tactics come down to two matches.
If you lose, nobody cares for what all you did in the whole year. That is why it is a good time to appreciate the balance Pandya provides India, something hardly any other T20 cricketer does.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo