Welcome back, Hardik.
Even if you weren’t 1/10th of the cricketer, even if you could just catch and field and were a bits and pieces all-rounder, it would be good to see you back.
But you are more than that. You flew in, and then you flew - what a catch that was. There is something about you, who knows, maybe even you don’t know yet what it is, but there are those that do.
Which is why, after Kohli, Rohit, MS and Bumrah, your name was inked in indelible marker to make that formidable India XI for the World Cup.
Yet your name went missing. Just as every voice that could have made a difference went missing.
It took Rahul Dravid to speak up for you, in an equal measure of sanity and understanding.
And with that, somehow, things appear to have been sorted for now at least.
Perhaps a lesson for all cricketers: do not expect much from the administration. It’s beyond them. It reflects in the way the BCCI has been run, and far worse, how it fails to be run - with the added discomfort of a prop called the Committee of Administrators (CoA).
So, you’re back, Hardik. How does it feel? Like you got out of jail?
No, you don’t have to answer that. You don’t have to answer anything.
You are not answerable.
That’s what they wanted, and that’s what they should get.
Hardik Pandya has gone missing. In finding Hardik Pandya, again, India has lost him.
How hard we try and alter people. To make them suit our definition of what they should be like.
Great, Hardik Pandya is palatable now. You will see him as we have seen him for a while, poker-faced, answering questions, so deadpan, when it’s only Manjrekar in the post-match.
Somehow, Manjrekar has drilled Pandya far more than Karan Johar ever did - in each interview, he has probed, skilfully, trying to eke something out, something about the other Hardik Pandya.
But that was cricket. Hardik Pandya was on his guard. His eyes still, almost lifeless, his demeanour almost solemn, as if Manjrekar was singing a dirge.
That dirge which Karan Johar sang, camouflaged with a sexual surge.
Johar was his friend, buddy, this was Bollywood, not cricket; Hardik Pandya wasn’t a cricketer, he was so much more. Black Elvis had just entered the building.
A while back, Hardik Pandya posted a video on Twitter of his homecoming from an overseas’ tour - he surprised his father in the middle of the night, waking him up. A stunned father hugs his son, frantically.
It’s a dramatic video. Hardik Pandya was dramatic. His father seemed dramatic too.
There are bits and pieces that people have seen of the Karan Johar interview. There seems to be plenty of hearsay too. I did watch the video, a few days after it went on air.
If anything, it was largely tactless of the two cricketers. Even naïve. Such a rarity on air, these days. Everyone is tutored enough to be the next Sushmita Sen.
These two, they would’ve made it beyond the swimsuit round. But not much further.
On January 28, 2019, on his return, Hardik Pandya bowled his full quota of ten overs. In 42 innings so far, this was the 11th occasion that he had bowled all 10 overs. Two caught keeper dismissals, Pandya was pitching it up.
That not even player of the match, Mohammed Shami bowled his full quota, was a sign from the captain – we are behind you, Pandya.
It’s way too early to look at Pandya’s numbers and make sense of him as a cricketer. But in him, is India’s genuine search for a cricketing all-rounder. That’s how serious Indian cricket is about Hardik Pandya.
That Kapil Dev’s name continues to be thrown in tandem with his name, is not an accident.
In 11 Tests so far, Hardik Pandya already has a Test century and a five-for. He scored a Test 50 on debut, a Test century in his third Test. His 112 off 96 balls earned him Man of the match.
His match-turning spell of 5/28 at Nottingham was sealed with a run a ball 50. But those are just numbers. And with Pandya, they will, for a while, continue to be only a small part of the story.
Just as, India invested long term in Rohit Sharma, and is now served tons for fun, there is a deep squinting far-away look at the horizon for this 25-year old’s India future.
After Hardik Pandya sat on that Koffee Show, much of that promise was being ripped into – it may have been politically incorrect, even foolish, but none of that was, arguably, to do with cricket.
That he was on the show as a cricketer was not by accident either. He was not there as the painter who reds the town. But Johar’s batteries were all charged for ‘Gimme Red’.
What else do you expect on a Johar show? It’s not by accident either that a Bollywood icon claims to be a virgin on his show.
Anything goes. It’s just that these two cricketers, didn’t know better. It’s not as if either Pandya or KL Rahul will become saints after this incident, but don’t be surprised if they sound like car nerds in their next interview-shoot. Maybe they will do an entire interview where a car will be a metaphor for something else. With Queen’s ‘I’m in love with my car’ playing alongside.
Here are two hugely successful guys in their mid-20s, with 10-12 years best of making the most of their gifts and talents.
Let’s back them. Let’s be their strength. If you love the game, know what it is that makes you love it – it is players like Hardik and Rahul that make those repeated curtain calls to the clamouring of crowds, after those mighty sixes – they are to the manor born, they are to the IPL born.
Whichever team they go to, and by the looks of it, Pandya won’t go far from the Mumbai Indians, will be enrichened by their funky town cricket.
They are, by virtue of their skills, flair, approach to the game, a toast to the game.
Not just the IPL, but who knows, to all formats. Which is why, in spite of Rahul’s repeated and often baffling failures, one Test series after the other, there is that glimmer of hope that he will come good. He too is a long-term investment.
But if this is how BCCI treats their long-term investments, why grudge the bulls and the bears? In the aftermath of the Johar episode, the BCCI had pulled out of the Pandya-Rahul investment. It is a matter of both shame and regret.
Which is where the Supreme Court and the CoA come in. The Pandya-Rahul affair is a pointer to a stinkier mess. It didn’t work well before the changes. But it’s far worse now. By tying the BCCI arms and legs, it’s Indian cricket that’s being kicked in the gut.
Hardik Pandya was born on October, 11. Under the same sign as Sehwag and Gambhir. With a strange balance, comes an even stranger outspoken word and world way.
Try to curtail him at your own peril. And if you do, don’t be surprised that you may do more harm than help. Nurture him. He could win you more than the odd cup. More than the world?
This should have been written much earlier. But it did seem almost premature to write it before Hardik Pandya’s return to the Indian side. Personally, I did feel bad for him, almost anxious for his career. In a way, the thought that we may not see Pandya play again for India, made me value him more than I ever had before.
Let’s lighten up now. Here’s to Pandya going red in the head for the fourth ODI.
(Gaurav Sethi branded Bored Cricket Crazy Indians (BCC!) to bring bloggers together. He also branded Che Pujara, Jatman and Thank You Sachin! – as a cartoon, before it became a farewell cry. He used to work on brands. Now he works on himself. He tweets at @BoredCricket)