The first time you meet Hardik Pandya—his Caribbean gait, floppy hat and stud in tow—he might give the impression of a brash youngster. But the more you talk to him, the better you understand his early struggles and the grounded self.
A few seasons ago, his life was like this. “Five rupees ke maggi aati thi, malli ko request karke garam pani leta tha aur mein aur mere bhai ground pe bana ke khata the. Breakfast bhi wohi aur lunch bhi wohi (my brother and I used to get maggi for Rs 5 and we used to request the gardener to give us hot water and we used to prepare and eat it at the ground for lunch and breakfast). 365 days non-stop,” Pandya recalled during a Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy match.
“Din bhar ground pe pade rehte tha. Bahar udhari bahut ho gayi thi, jeetna aata woh turant chala jata. 10 rupees chodho, 5 rupees ke bhi vande tha (we spent the whole day at the ground. I was in deep debts and whatever money I earned sufficed only for paying the debts. Forget Rs 10, I didn’t even have Rs 5),” he went on.
His days of struggle seem well over. From a lower-middle class background to playing first-class cricket, IPL and now on the verge of representing the country, his life has taken a sudden flight in the last year or so. The flight to Adelaide was the longest of his life. Life in flight mode, quite literally and figuratively.
As if to prove his inclusion was merited, he continued to destroy oppositions. In the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, he creamed Delhi pacer Akash Sudan for a record-34 runs in an over. He carted Vidarbha bowlers around for 86 off just 46 balls, laced with eight sixes.
The all-rounder India needs?
Maybe, Pandya was the pace-bowling all-rounder Mahendra Singh Dhoni had sought for all these years. Hardik feels the skipper wouldn’t have to pull his hair out again. But it’s not over-confidence or arrogance. It’s self belief, he quickly cleared the air. “Confidence hai bhai, self belief. I have a feeling that ab India ko all-rounder ke zarorat nahi padegi. I have had a good preparation and whatever I have seen on television, Australia will not be difficult,” he asserted.
You will wonder whether the self-belief stems from youthful exuberance, for he is still uninitiated at the international level. The closest he had come to international exposure was last year’s IPL. “My nature is such that
I trust myself 200 per cent. People are saying it will not be easy for me, bhai. Even I know that, but if I don’t trust myself how I will do well? People pehle bhi trust nahi karti thi. I trusted myself,” he said.
But Pandya never thought the call would come so soon. During Baroda’s Ranji game against Mumbai last year, he asked from the boundary line: “Do you think I’m the all-rounder India is looking for?” It was his first full domestic season and he was trying to bust the perception that he is just a T20 player by scoring big.
For somebody who sounds so confident, it’s surprising when he admits he did not consider himself supremely talented to begin with. He worked doubly hard to make the grades. But since junior days, everybody liked him. “Sab pasand karte tha,” he often said in his conversation.
But all is not yet well back home. His father, Himanshu, suffered a third heart attack when Hardik was making it to the Baroda Ranji squad. His business suffered huge loss and he still runs door to door as passport advisor. On his father’s visiting card is printed: “Super Links. May I help you?” As an afterthought, Hardik added: “Tension he tension.”
Then during the Mushtaq Ali Trophy, his mother underwent a minor surgery. “I have done just nothing. It’s my brother and father who are taking care of her. The more I think, the more I lose my focus. Life aise he rahi hai dost. Chodo, it’s past. Past kharab tha, future acha hoga,” the 22-year-old sighed.
Maybe, he didn’t want to talk too much about his hardships. He quickly diverted the subject, recounting the first time he saw his own video of batting. He lauded himself before others did. “Kafi badhiya dekhta hoon,” he said with a laugh.
Often, he recollects those days and wonder: “All those days are gone, what a life it was! I tell myself I have ‘dum’. Or else how could I have reached here? How could you enjoy life when there is no struggle. Just imagine when we came to play in Mumbai during the under-19 days, we used to take photographs with Trident Hotel as backdrop. Years later, I stayed there.”
Does he still eat maggi? “Yes, I still love it,” came the abrupt reply.