A trawl through Hardik Pandya’s Facebook, Twitter, and social media images is well worth your time if you are interested in aerial photography. He seems perennially in the air — jumping, leaping, celebrating. And when he is on ground, his hands are either combing through his hair, or his face making animated expressions.
There is even a video of him on a bed. No, no one is there with him but he is sprawled out there for one of his live facebook chat sessions from last year. Unfortunately, it hasn’t got much hits yet for some unknown reason — just around 12,000 views — but it says everything about Pandya of the old. It’s a tribute to him that although he is just a young man, and his career is hardly begun, we have already two phases of him — carefree youth, and one which says he is fast maturing and ambitious about cricket.
That Facebook chat-video seems from almost an earlier era. For a minute almost, nothing happens. Not a word said. He is looking at his phone. Suddenly, he pipes up, “I am waiting for your comments”. And then they probably flood in and our champion is ultra-cool. He squints his eyes, looks up at his phone screen, and then starts mumbling out the questions. Obviously not much interests him. For 10 minutes, he is almost muttering the questions under his breath, answers a few in this nonchalantly cool mumbling self like one of those pilot-announcements on air.
Somewhere in the middle, his voice perks up when he says to a questioner: “Be yourself, That’s how you can be stylish”.
All this style-bhai persona emerging from a love of all things Caribbean, or “rockstar” as his IPL team-mate Aiden Blizzard nicknamed him after seeing one of his whacky dance steps hides the fact that this is a guy who has seen some hardships in life. His cricket-crazy father Himanshu, who took him to Kiran More’s camp when he was just 5, suffered losses in business and the family had to hard-graft. It isn’t something that he likes to talk much but in an interview to this newspaper last year he opened up. Just a gist of it here, to give you an idea. “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. Din bhar ground pe pade rehta tha. Bahar udhari bahut ho gayi thi, jitna aata woh turant chala jata. 10 rupees chhodo, 5 rupees ke bhi vande the.”
Good days are here, though. He is quicker than before, more runs that have been tailored according to match situation, fielding as good as ever — something has happened after the T20 World Cup. We know some of it of course — a tour to Australia with India A where Rahul Dravid presented him with some hard truths. And credit to him, Pandya has latched on to them with feverish energy. His fitness was pretty fine always but from a wiry guy he has added some muscle with some awe-inspiring fitness routines ranging from some insane weightlifting to running with a dead-weight attached to the body.
Things have been rapidly progressing these days, so much so that he finds himself captaining the India A team that is going to play Australia in a tour game in Mumbai from Friday. In a brief chat, he touched upon the changes he has made to become more mature.
“In term of my work ethic, I am more focused now. My eating, sleeping, work-out habits have changed. Everything is being monitorised and that has helped a lot. I am stronger now, I am eating better now, I sleep around 9.30-10pm. I am reading the game better. The processes are better now. Cricket is something very important to me and this the right time I should focus on it at this moment.”
On Valentine’s Day, when Virat Kohli went public with his love, Pandya chose to put it out through social media that he has been single for a while and all his focus is on cricket.
In Kohli’s footsteps
One of the important changes has been an increase in speed. Indian seamers usually lose speed as the seasons go but Pandya has managed to amp up the velocity. He says it wasn’t even a conscious effort but just a by-product of overall improvement in fitness and lifestyle choices. If you want to be an India cricketer these days, it seems boiled food and early sleep is a prerequisite.
“I have changed some habits. I haven’t done anything specific to increase my speeds. As I said, I sleep early, eat quality food, sometimes boiled food, train well to get stronger and fitter. Virat Kohli has set a great example and I try to follow him.”
As much as Dravid has helped him, Pandya’s equations with Ricky Ponting at IPL for Mumbai Indians was quite something else. It was almost as a father-son relationship in some ways. Ponting felt that Pandya was “fearless”, and backed him to the hilt. Some of the scenes at training days spoke volumes about their relationship. Ponting would tousle Pandya’s hair, would bowl at him — throwdowns — for a long long time when everyone else would have gone back to the dressing room.
Pandya perks up at Ponting’s mention. “Ricky was someone who from the start helped me. Someone like him, saying good things about you was amazing. He was always there for me during practice sessions, give throw-downs or talk. With him I was a different person, everything was new for me. Now I think I belong here.”
He has always talked himself up even in the past but as he said once, if he doesn’t believe in himself, who will? “People are saying it will not be easy for me, bhai. Even I know that, but if I don’t trust myself how will I do well? People pehle bhi trust nahi karti the. I trusted myself.” You can’t argue with that.
There is this lovely story about Irfan Pathan and him during a league game in Baroda. His brother Krunal was umpiring, and Irfan was bowling. Hardik was shadow-practising pull shots and hitting imaginary sixes. Unimpressed, Irfan chats up Krunal, “Who is he trying to impress? “Then, I hit him for 24 runs in one over. He was hugely impressed.”