As the afternoon dry heat of Ahmedabad made its way to a rather surprising breezy evening at the Narendra Modi Stadium, Motera, the training ground at the stadium complex had a palpable excitement. Towards the player’s change room, Gujarat Titans captain Hardik Pandya was getting his left hand strapped up with tapes – and, no, it’s not an injury worry. He was getting ready to bowl!
Yes, you read it correctly: Hardik Pandya is fit to bowl, at least in the nets. This is a delightful news for the Titans fans, considering their captain hasn’t bowled in GT’s last four games. Interestingly, it was just before their home game against MI that Pandya experienced a back injury, leading the team management to take extra precautions with the all-rounder.
GT had to alter their plans thereon with Mohit Sharma operating with the new ball on one occasion while Yash Dayal made his way back in the XI. GT even tried young Darshan Nalkande for the crucial Qualifier 1 match against CSK, in search of that extra bowling option.
But what they search for now is a victory, and probably for the first time this season, the table-topper will feel the heat. The pressure is on for them after the blip against Chennai Super Kings at the MA Chidambaram Stadium on Tuesday in Qualifier 1.
While GT have been the best bowling unit in the competition so far with teammates Mohammad Shami and Rashid Khan in a friendly battle to earn the Purple Cap, GT would be more than happy to have the option of Pandya’s impact with the new ball.
With Pandya putting in 1 or 2 overs inside the powerplay means they have options later on. Rashid and Noor can operate with the field spread out while Mohit can apply the choke in the middle overs and be kept for the fag end.
Hardik Pandya Bowls Full Tilt
Back to the training ground, and on one of the practice pitches was Rashid. He was having a field day with side arm specialists and a couple of net bowlers were tonked heavily down the ground, he was making the ground staff chase leather with some brutal hitting – clearly, he had his brief for the session. But, all that changed when Pandya came on to bowl.
Pandya cranked up the pace and Rashid began defending balls. After ambling across for the first five minutes, Pandya was bowling full tilt with a proper run-up and as has been his success mantra in the games – that back of the length, hit the deck deliveries started whizzing past Rashid’s bat.
After Rashid moved to the main square for bowling practice, Pandya started darting in the fuller length deliveries at the open stumps. All this while GT’s bowling coach Ashish Nehra shuttled across the main square and the training ground in his scooty often relying on Vikram Solanki to get updates of Pandya’s bowling session.
The last time MI played in Ahmedabad, Pandya had scalped Rohit Sharma in his first over (2nd of the match).
Time for the skipper to step up
In 2022, Pandya had played 15 matches scoring 487 runs at a strike-rate of 131. 27 and took eight wickets at 27.75. He led from the front, batting higher up the order and playing the anchor while he was menacing with the new ball up front.
This year, Pandya has so far played 14 matches, scored 297 at 27 and taken three wickets at 63.33.
More glaringly, Pandya has not bowled in the last four GT matches, essentially giving themselves only five bowlers to operate with. Dasun Shanka, who has been in the XI for the last few games, is operating purely as a batter and so is Vijay Shankar.
What GT fans would also like is to see Pandya the batter flourishing. This season GT’s underlying flaw has been their confusion at No.3, No.4 and No.5 and while for the most part of the season, that flaw was masked by the wins, it did come to the fore vs CSK.
Pandya at No.3 has not been at his fluent best while, there has been regular shuffling among Shankar, Pandya, Sudarshan, Miller, Shanaka throughout the season. Pandya’s last five innings have yielded three single digits.
Practice Citing: Little back in the fray
Another bowler who was cranking up the pace was Joshua Little. The Irishman has been available for selection for the last two games after he flew back from international duty, but was rested against Royal Challengers Bangalore and CSK. However, on pre-match day Little was hard at work and bowled to the likes of Shubman Gill, Wriddhima Saha and the two range hitters Rashid and Rahul Tewatia.
Little had played a prominent part in the GT campaign this year at the start, and while his numbers may not reveal the real picture, his presence has allowed GT to maneuver Shami and Mohit better. Add to that, if Pandya bowls, that’s six proper bowling options for GT to pick from. Shami and Pandya bowl the first 5 overs – then comes the wrist spinners – Rashid and Noor Ahmed – in tandem in the middle overs while Mohit and Little can shore up the fag end of the innings.