India all-rounder Hardik Pandya made his debut way back in 2016, in a T20I against Australia. Primarily, picked as a batsman — a dasher, who could bowl at speeds in excess of 140kmph. While one could expect a few runs here and there, reliability in getting runs consistently was something that was missing. As for a bowler, he just did enough to get a wicket per match.
A year-and-a-half later, he was introduced in the Test arena, where his role was something similar. Play big shots down the order, and bowl 10 -12 overs in the day when the situation demanded. With the limited skillset, he managed to impress one and all with his 96-ball 108 against Sri Lanka in the third Test Pallekele. Wickets continued to come his way, but at a rather slower rate.
But within a span of few Tests, Hardik managed to realise that a dasher won’t be able to survive the ‘Test’ of time. In the tour of South Africa, he gave vast glimpses of his much-improved technique, where all the other batsmen failed. He scored a patient 93 in Cape Town, to put his side in a fighting situation. That perhaps was the ‘coming of age’ match for the youngster. On the other hand, his 5-28 against England in Nottingham raised hopes further.
But since then, the junior Pandya hasn’t had much to do in the longest format. In fact, injuries have kept him at bay. He started having back troubles in 2019, for which he had to undergo a surgery and an elaborate rehab. And then Covid-19 struck. But finally when he did manage to make it to the team in limited-overs in Australia, he wasn’t deemed fit to bowl, and hence wasn’t picked in the Test side.
Now with the third Test against England around the corner — Pink ball Test in Ahmedabad –, he does have a role to play. With the ability to bowl all those overs — if fit, gives the other bowlers a decent amount of rest, especially Jasprit Bumrah, whose workload is always under question. With his batting, he saves the team from exposing their tail a little early, and gives that balance to the team, which the skipper needs. His numbers — 532 runs in 11 matches at an average of 31.29 with 17 wickets, don’t give away much, but given his recent all-round improvement, he could just be another vital player in Tests for India, in the times to come.