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Feature

Hardik hits his rhythm to get rid of the blues

India had no doubts about taking Hardik to the World Cup even as he struggled through the IPL - he was putting in the hard yards then, and it's paying off handsomely now

Sidharth Monga
Sidharth Monga
12-Jun-2024
Not long ago, Hardik Pandya was being booed wherever he went. It would have made for a great exercise in sociology if somebody surveyed why people were booing Hardik: out of the love for Rohit Sharma, out of hatred for Hardik, or just following an attention-seeking fad. Whatever might be the cause, Hardik was also leading a team caught on the treadmill of defeat, having his commitment to bowling questioned.
Despite everything, India had no doubt they were taking Hardik to the World Cup because when he is anywhere close to his best, he does what no one else in India does. They stuck with him despite the lack of overs early in the IPL and despite his economy rate of over 10. He might not have looked effective, but Hardik was putting in the work in the nets. How do we know? The India support staff was tracking him through the IPL.
"I think one thing I'm definitely sure about him is that he has confidence in his ability," India's bowling coach Paras Mhambrey said of Hardik. "Sometimes there's no rhythm in a tournament. Sometimes, even if you try, the rhythm doesn't come. It takes time. I think that was a phase where the rhythm didn't come. As a bowler, you do everything. You bowl, you set goals, you bowl consistently, you play. So sometimes he would not maintain his rhythm. I think in his case, it was a factor where he was not able to maintain his rhythm.
"It would have been worrisome had he not done anything in that phase. If he did not work on that, then it was a little worrisome. But one thing was, for sure, I knew that, I also followed that, that his work ethic was going on the same as before. So, if that is going on with him then after one or two matches, the rhythm of the bowler comes. Because he has done a lot of bowling, he has a lot of understanding about his bowling. So, he was sure that if work ethic was going on, he was bowling, nets attendance was going on, so I think the rhythm will come [sooner or later].
"And you can see, in the last one or two matches he has bowled, if you compare the IPL and the rhythm now, as a bowler you can see that he has the rhythm [back]. So, I think that's it. It's all about rhythm. And I think he has caught the rhythm."
And once he has caught rhythm, Hardik has been irresistible albeit in helpful conditions. He is India's joint-highest wicket-taker so far in the tournament, and has bowled his allotment of four in each of the three matches. And he has always been the fourth seamer used when the movement has eased out. Not much but still.
Hardik's best contribution perhaps came against Pakistan when he had to use cutters on the short ball to get two key wickets: Fakhar Zaman and Shadab Khan. Fakhar had looked especially good in his brief stay. These wickets gave India just the breathing space to keep Jasprit Bumrah's two overs for the back end.
Against USA, too, Hardik took out two big hitters, Aaron Jones and Corey Anderson, again with the short ball. He is emerging as the point-of-difference bowler who can bash the middle of the pitch once any movement has died down.
Hopefully the booing and the struggles of the IPL are a distant memory now. If they are, this is exactly what India needed from their stay in New York as Hardik has a much more important role to play in the rest of the tournament. India have punted on the extra spinner in their squad, and given the need to have six-hitters till No. 8, the most plausible scenario to play the extra spinner is if India play only two frontline seamers. That is when Hardik's role will become crucial. And he is the only one in India who can play that role.

Sidharth Monga is a senior writer at ESPNcricinfo