On the face of it, Hardik Pandya retaining his place for this game was a minor surprise. The buzz was around spin-bowling allrounder Pawan Negi, given the number of cracks on the JSCA Complex pitch. So, when MS Dhoni named an unchanged playing XI at the toss, a few eyebrows were raised.
In Pune, Pandya eventually had a chance to bat. He had been a spectator, batting-wise, in the T20 internationals in Australia. But a top-order collapse in the first match of this series had presented him with an opportunity to prove his mettle. Coming in at No. 7 Pandya, however, could only manage six off two balls on a lively surface. Playing across the line to a straight delivery from medium pacer Dasun Shanaka, the youngster was trapped plumb in front.
Here in Ranchi, Pandya was promoted to No. 5. The ball came nicely on to the bat and the 22-year-old lived up to his reputation of a hitter. His 12-ball 27 changed the complexion of the game, at a time when India had gotten stuck a little after Shikhar Dhawan’s blitz upfront. After ratcheting up 75 runs in 7 overs when Dhawan departed, India could manage just just 52 more in the next 7.2 overs, losing two more wickets. Someone had to break the shackles, and Pandya did just that.
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His first scoring strokes were a couple and a single off Sachithra Senanayake. Then he beautifully picked a slower one from Kasun Rajitha and dispatched it to the deep mid-wicket fence. Senanayake came for his next over and started off with a half-tracker. Pandya clobbered it 10 rows back over the deep mid-wicket boundary. The Sri Lankan off-spinner altered his length and bowled full. But Pandya was ready, hammering it over long-on for another six. At the end of the over he had been batting on 25 off 10 balls. Sri Lanka looked a little shaken. They had rallied very well after the initial thrashing. But Pandya helped India wrest the initiative. With Suresh Raina taking Dushmantha Chameera to the cleaners in the next over with four fours, the game slipped away from the islanders.
The hosts badly need a big-hitter down the order with two important tournaments – Asia Cup and World T20 – coming up. Yuvraj Singh is yet to get into his groove, while Dhoni no longer remains the power-hitter he used to be. Someone needs to stand up and deliver at the back-end of the innings and Pandya showed he could provide the solution.