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Krunal Pandya Justifies His 'Highly Recommended' Tag With Eden Gardens Showing

Akhil Nair |November 5, 2018, 11:16 AM IST
Krunal Pandya Justifies His 'Highly Recommended' Tag With Eden Gardens Showing

“A batsman who can bowl”

“Can bat in positions No. 3 to No.7”

“Has done extremely well in the IPL”

Sounds like a perfect T20 player (and a potentially decent 50-over player), doesn’t it?

These were the words Ashish Nehra used to describe Krunal Pandya when Cricketnext asked him whether the all-rounder should be a part of India’s playing eleven in the T20I series against Windies.

The 27-year-old was named in the Indian squad to take on Carlos Brathwaite’s side in three T20Is at home, followed by three away against Australia. He further made the probable list of 12 to play in Kolkata, and was handed a well-earned maiden cap by Rohit Sharma before the toss of the first game.

Krunal's journey to becoming India’s 78th T20I player has been a mixture of consistent performances, periodic injury troubles and timely cameos by luck.

It was an injury which brought about his call-up in England, and an injury that contributed to selection against Windies.

The southpaw received his first call-up to the Indian T20I squad during their tour of Ireland and England after Washington Sundar injured himself during team practice. Krunal, who was already present in England as part of the India A squad, was called upon by the selectors but only ended up warming the bench.

However, a major factor for his selection in the home series against Windies was an injury to his younger brother. Hardik Pandya was ruled out for the remainder of the year due to a back injury he suffered during the recently concluded 2018 Asia Cup.

Sport has an unwritten rule that the more time a youngster spends on the side-lines, the higher his or her stock rises. Rishabh Pant is one such example. The same applied to this 27-year-old, whose value has risen considerably over the last couple of years, even more so as India struggle to perfect their combination in the 50-over format.

In October, he was given the captaincy of his Ranji side Baroda after a stellar performance in the Vijay Hazare Trophy, where he finished with 274 runs at an average of 45.66. With the ball, he only managed 11 wickets in the six games but did so with an average 17.54 despite not bowling much.

At the IPL auction earlier this year, Mumbai Indians used their 'Right to Match' card and paid a heavy tag of 8.8 crore rupees for Krunal. While the franchise did not have much to boast about this season, Krunal 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 per over.

However, it was IPL 2017 that proved to be a watershed moment for his career. He finished the season with 243 runs at a strike rate of 135.75 and 10 wickets at an impressive economy-rate of 6.82 per over, and a man of the match award in a low scoring final against Rising Pune Supergiant. And he produced such a season after having torn his quadriceps while fielding in the Ranji Trophy opener in 2016, which brought an end to his first-class season.

This wasn’t the first injury comeback the older Pandya has made in his domestic career. He had spent an agonizing few months recovering from a shoulder surgery after sustaining a labral tear during the Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 tournament in 2016. Despite his lack of game time, Mumbai Indians bought him for Rs. 2 crores in the auction, and their faith was rewarded with 237 runs in nine innings at a strike rate of 191.12, and six wickets at an economy-rate under eight per over.

Two major surgeries, two incomplete domestic seasons, three IPLs and decent domestic season later, Krunal Pandya is an international player. And he showed a fair account of himself on Sunday.

He started with a 10-run over but went on to finish with figures of 1 for 15 in his four, with the prized wicket of his Mumbai Indians teammate Kieron Pollard. He smashed a quickfire nine-ball 21 to finish the game, taking the hosts home with five wickets to spare.

His performance didn’t bag him any awards post the game, Kuldeep Yadav and Dinesh Karthik got hold of those. But his maturity, situation awareness, plan execution and ‘clutch’ player traits were on display at Eden Gardens.

Rohit Sharma revealed at the post match presentation that the all-rounder wanted the responsibility of bowling to Kieron Pollard. And like he has done many times in the IPL, Krunal delivered for his skipper, sending his MI teammate back to the dressing room with a flying kiss.

"You practice for tough situations and not easy situations. I felt no pressure, I was completely enjoying the game and thinking of how I started playing the game and knew that this was my opportunity," the all-rounder said in an on-field interview after the Windies innings.

Krunal may not prove to be a game-changer like a couple of his franchise teammates, but he is the ideal glue that brings together India’s batting and the bowling departments. And considering his record, one finds it difficult to categorise him as a batting or bowling all-rounder – a facet which bodes well for India’s latest debutant.

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