IPL 2022: Leadership role at Gujarat Titans adds more versatility to Hardik Pandya's game

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IPL 2022: Leadership role at Gujarat Titans adds more versatility to Hardik Pandya's game
© Provided by Firstpost IPL 2022: Leadership role at Gujarat Titans adds more versatility to Hardik Pandya’s game

In cricket, there is a saying that a leadership role makes a player more ‘mature’, both on and off the field. The added responsibility urges an individual to set an example for his/her teammates with his/her own performance to earn the respect from them. And in this process the player ends up adding more skills to his/her own craft.

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This is exactly what is happening with Hardik Pandya in this season of IPL.

In four matches, the captain of Gujarat Titans has faced more balls in the first 10 overs than any of his eight previous eight IPL seasons he has taken part in. The structure of this team is such that Pandya is their main middle-order batter. Batting at No. 4, he has 228 runs in five innings, second in the race for Orange Cap after Jos Buttler. And most importantly, unlike some of his India teammates whose strike-rate took a dip as soon as they became captains, Pandya has struck at 136.52 this season.

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On Thursday night, the all-rounder led from the front in all three departments — scoring an unbeaten 87 off 52 balls (his second successive half-century), picking up a wicket and effecting a brilliant run-out with a direct throw — to set up a 37-run win for Titans at the DY Patil Stadium and took his team to the top of the points table.

“I am not used to batting this long,” Pandya told the official broadcaster following the victory over Rajasthan. “It is two games in a row that I have batted 15 and 17 overs. But I like it. It gives me time. I can calculate and take the right risks. I think in the last game [against Sunrisers Hyderabad in which he scored 50 off 42 balls] it did not come off but today I made sure I did. I had a sense of approach where I was ready to take on bowlers. I can calculate and take risks.”

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“I have been in this situation where I have taken the role of scoring 12-ball 30 [referring to his previous role as a late order finisher in Mumbai Indians]. It is difficult but now at four I can control the game.”

Batting at No.4 has its own challenges, especially for someone who has mostly been a late-order dasher for the most of his career. But as he said, Pandya did use the extra time he got at the crease to ‘calculate’ the situation brilliantly against the versatile Rajasthan attack.

Coming to the crease at 15 for 2, Pandya knew the importance of his wicket in the context of setting up a competitive target for the opponent to chase. And understanding that as soon as he came to the crease, Sanju Samson brought Yuzvendra Chahal to bowl the fourth over, just to lure Pandya to play a rash shot.

The Gujarat skipper enjoys pace on the ball but neither Chahal nor R Ashwin gave that to him. They hit the right length and bowled the stump to stump line. However, Pandya did not fall into their trap. He knew that he can play out these eight overs with strike-rate of 100-110, there are runs for the taking from the other bowlers. And that’s what the Baroda boy did exactly – playing out the spin-duo with minimum risk and going after the likes of Prasidh Krishna and Kuldeep Sen to keep the scoring rate intact.

This sort of maturity is what Indian cricket seeks from Pandya. He showed that batting responsibly doesn’t necessarily mean batting slow. The intent matters. As long as you have the ability to provide a strong finish to your innings, you are free to plan your approach as per your likings and dislikings. However, finding this ideal balance is a difficult art to master even for any specialist batsman. And Pandya is an all-rounder and this is only the first season into this new role.

But perhaps, it is the psyche of a leader who wants to take more responsibility and be the flag-bearer of the team, gets Pandya going. And let’s not forget that he has also bowled 18.3 overs in these five matches, which includes bowling at the backend of the innings. Also, on the field he is looking quite electrifying as usual.

Coming back into competitive cricket following a long injury lay off, things have been pretty challenging for Pandya. But now he is shaping up pretty well with his all-round skills. Though it is too early to jump the gun, but if he can continue this sort of form in the IPL and remain fit, there will be no stopping Pandya to board that Sydney-bound flight later this year.

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