"The aim is not just to represent India for a couple of matches here and there but to play for as long as possible,” he said. “It would be a dream come true if I and Hardik can together play for India in the 2019 World Cup.”
A year later, the 27-year-old is a step closer to fulfilling that dream, although his maiden India call up has come from the backdoor. Washington Sundar injured himself while playing football in team practice and the selectors turned immediately to the older Pandya brother as replacement. In fact, Pandya was already in England as part of the India A squad that reached the final of the tri-series in England featuring West Indies A and England Lions.
The Baroda all-rounder’s stock has risen considerably over the last couple of years and it hasn’t gone unnoticed. At the IPL auction earlier this year, the Mumbai Indians used their 'Right to Match' card to ensure he stayed in the camp for a cool price tag of 8.8 crore rupees. Though the franchise had an underwhelming tournament, failing to defend their title, he was one of their standout performers - ending the season with 228 runs at a strike rate of 145.22 and 12 wickets with an economy rate of 7.07 runs per over.
However, it was his output during the 2017 edition which thrust his name to the list of contenders for an India call-up. Pandya finished that season with 243 runs at a strike rate of 135.75 and 10 wickets at an impressive economy of 6.82. Notably, he was man of the match in a low scoring final against Rising Pune Supergiant. Batting first, Mumbai made just 129 with Pandya top scoring with 47 in 38 balls. He took the new ball, and bowled his four overs for 31.
Pandya possess the ideal skill set for a limited overs player - a crafty left-arm spinner, hard hitting middle-order batsman (that he is left-handed is a plus) and an exceptional ground fielder. India’s T20 side is yet to settle on a sixth bowling option and Pandya might just be the answer. Including the southpaw in the playing XI may bolster the bowling as well as provide India with lower order muscle at the end of an innings.
And as for the dream of returning to England as a member of the same squad as his kid brother, well, that is closer today than ever before.
First Published: July 2, 2018, 6:19 PM IST