Match Analysis

Hardik serves reminder of his power and excitement with the bat

He gave the strong finish India needed with a 27-ball half-century after the top order had set the tone

Melinda Farrell
"One-fifty-160 is a good score," Najmul Hossain Shanto told Ravi Shastri after winning the toss against India at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium.
Par score ruminations are always subjective and Bangladesh are a team lacking in batting confidence, so perhaps Shanto's judgement was more reflective of his own side's self-imposed limitations.
Certainly, at 108 for 4 in the 12th over, India's top order had built a solid platform while not blasting Bangladesh out of the contest. Still, there can be a fluttering nervousness when India's top four have come and gone. Who is going to power them home when the big guns are back in the holster?
Shivam Dube had done the job with Suryakumar Yadav against USA, striking 31 runs off 35 balls in a supporting role on a devilish batting pitch at Nassau County, but there have been few opportunities for the middle and lower order to flex their finishing muscles in the T20 World Cup 2024.
Hardik Pandya had found his rhythm with the ball and showed signs of rediscovering his batting mojo in India's comfortable victory over Afghanistan with a significant 32 off 24.
But forget the misery of his boo-infested IPL, the monster innings full of pyrotechnics, of which he is more than capable, have been rare in T20Is.
Hardik had only reached 50 three times in a T20 for India. There have been fruitful cameos, of course, but his most recent half-century was in the 2022 T20 World Cup semi-final in Adelaide, when his blistering 33-ball 63 against India was in vain, as Jos Buttler and Alex Hales waltzed England to a 10-wicket victory in 16 overs.
Another turbocharged innings of 71 off 30 had come two months earlier in Mohali against Australia, but again it was in a losing cause.
Just once had a Hardik half-century preceded an India victory, also in 2022, against England in Southampton. On that occasion his undefeated 33-ball 51, in addition to his four wickets, was the difference between the two sides, India winning by 50 runs.
Now, in Antigua, Hardik had 8.2 overs to make an impact when he walked out to bat, to put the target far beyond Shanto's 'good score'.
He was off the mark with a single, courtesy of a misfield, and the next seven balls he faced were prodded, worked or hit straight to a fielder. With Dube also struggling to kickstart his innings, this was Bangladesh's opportunity; keep squeezing until something breaks and take heart from India's propensity to lose wickets in clusters.
It broke in the 15th over, but not in the way Bangladesh intended. A loose delivery outside off stump from Mahedi Hasan was in Hardik's arc and he obligingly slammed it over the deep-cover boundary rope, helped on by the cross breeze. He punched the next ball in the same direction; 10 runs off two balls and you could almost hear the bolt sliding across to open whatever gate had been keeping his inner beast constrained.
It freed up Dube, too, who belted three sixes before he was bowled by Rishad Hossain. But no matter, Hardik was now in his groove, at his sublime best when he smote Hossain straight down the ground and over the sightscreen.
He added 15 off his bat in the final over and spoke to Alison Mitchell on the way back to the dressing room: "Par would've been 180, we got 196. That's a good score here." The contrast to Shanto's judgement was notable.
While Kuldeep Yadav was the pick of India's bowlers and Arshdeep Singh their most prolific wicket-taker, it was Hardik who struck the first blow in Bangladesh's chase, his slower ball accounting for Litton Das. He has the second-most wickets for India in this tournament with eight.
An allrounder's impact is often related to opportunity, particularly when it comes to batting; how many balls are available to hit. Hardik wasn't required to bat against Ireland or USA and his first hit out against Pakistan on that New York pitch was a brief 12 deliveries off which he scratched seven runs.
But against Bangladesh he offered a reminder of the power and excitement that landed him the early reputation of a cricketing rock star. This time the winning margin was an exact replica of Hardik's contribution with the bat, a neat 50. For the second time in his T20I career he had scored a half-century in an India victory.
And if Hardik Pandya has truly unlocked his best with the bat as well as his rhythm with the ball, he is truly a formidable weapon.

Melinda Farrell is a journalist and broadcaster