Ever since the era of Kapil Dev, we have been in awe of seam-bowling all-rounders. A player, who can steam in with the ball and deliver with the bat. However, after the legends departure from the game, India couldn’t find a suitable candidate.
There were sparks, like Ajit Agarkar and Irfan Pathan who lent some hope. But eventually both of them succumbed to inconsistency. Agarkar was somewhat a ‘semi all-rounder’ and managed to survive an entire cricketing career on the international arena. Pathan was sensational with the ball, and could act as a floater in the popular Indian batting line up of the 2000’s. It seemed India had found an able bowling all-rounder. However Pathan’s form slump, and inability to deliver with the ball didn’t help his cause, and he slowly found himself out of the scheme of things.
Meanwhile, India continued to produce some quality spin bowling all-rounders, Jadeja being the latest and possibly one of the best from the lot. The void for a quality player, who could provide 7-8 overs of seam bowling in the middle and bat lower down the order continued to be felt.
While having a seam bowling all-rounder isn’t necessity we must understand that it gives the captain more options to choose. What I mean is depending on the pitch the captain can bank on his spin and seam all-rounder and can go in with a batter more or a bowler less, or vice-versa. All this and yet having a balanced side.
The void India was facing wasn’t as bad in tests, as batsmen like Ashwin, Bhuvneshwar and Shami were contributing lower down the order. But when it came to limited overs it seemed like a head ache to maintain the balance of the side and yet not losing out on key players. This problem was especially grave when India toured outside the sub-continent where the pitches assisted the seamers more than the spinners.
The IPL did throw some players into the spotlight. One of them was Stuart Binny, son of Roger Binny. Wibbly-wobbly bowling, which could swing if given assistance, and the batting too looked decent. However, the much famed Binny couldn’t quite prove himself on the international arena and lasted only a handful of matches. But the story didn’t stop there.
The IPL of 2015 threw up Hardik Pandya. Young kid on the block, famous for his exploits in the T20 games of the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy. Hardik took everyone by surprise with his confidence. He scored an 8 ball 21 when his team needed 30 of 12. Hardik also took two catches along with some exceptional fielding for his team the Mumbai Indians in the Qualifier match against the CSK. Pandya was awarded the man of the match in that match.
In the year 2016 came another season Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, and Pandya was the star yet again. The next thing Pandya realised was that he was on a plane to Australia with the Indian Team as a part of the Indian T20 squad. From then on there was no looking back for him. Pandya impressed the selectors with decent bowling and some extravagant hitting with the bat. Pandya was in the news for all the right reasons.
Hardik soon made his ODI debut and continued to contribute with both the bat and the ball. His career graph was moving up all along. The Champions Trophy of 2017 saw another high when he hit 3 consecutive sixes against Pakistan’s F. Zaman in the league games. He also scored a brilliant 76 against the same opposition in the Finals. Pandya soon made his test debut and proved to be impressive there too scoring his maiden ton.
Also read: Hardik Pandya the new finisher in town.
In the recently concluded first ODI against Australia played on 17th September, Pandya unleashed something more. He was involved in a match winning partnership with M.S Dhoni to guide India to a safe total. Pandya turned the match around with his knock of 83(66). He also displayed his newly learnt art of the knuckle ball.
If there is something that has been prominent in Hardik’s story it has been consistent improvement and a never say die attitude. India seems to have found the answer to its age long quest for a seam bowling all-rounder. Now it is up to the captain to keep faith and develop this miraculous player India has been yearning for.
And to those who still ask, is Pandya India’s Ben Stokes? Well, yes and no. He definitely holds the potential to grow to the stature of Stokes. But he isn’t going to be India’s Ben Stokes, he’s going to live as India’s Hardik Pandya.