Hardik Pandya likes to be cool. In touch with zeitgeist. What’s the coolest thing that a bowler can do these days? The West Indians have patented funny celebrations after taking wicket – from Darren Bravo’s jigs to Sheldon Cottrell’s salutes. Most other pacers snarl, roar or do the usual send-offs to batsmen.
So, Pandya has decided he won’t react at all. How do you beat that in coolness scale? Take a wicket, stand there, stare at the batsman, turn around and walk off. He did that three times on a day Pandya, the bowler, and his captain would be really happy with his efforts. Though Rohit Sharma would get the raves for his wonderful hundred, it was Pandya who helped India hide their poor batting effort post Sharma’s exit with a triple strike that stubbed out Bangladesh’s resistance. Every time it seemed they had something going in the chase, their crowd would get into the game, but Pandya would silence them.
India made 314 after threatening 375 at one stage. Despite a record opening partnership of 180, the highest by any team in this competition, India added only 136 runs after Sharma’s dismissal. The chase wasn’t going to be easy on a pitch that had slowed up and every time Bangladesh tried to stir something, Pandya felled them and they were finally bowled out for 286.
What would have really cheered up the Indian management was Pandya’s cricketing smarts that was evident in his bowling. It came through in the way he took two of his three wickets. But first a bit of luck. Bangladesh were 73 for 1 when Pandya was introduced in the 16th over. As always, he banged one in short which sailed over Soumya Sarkar’s head for a wide. Then came the lucky turn, not entirely as he did slow up the pace on it but it still wasn’t a good one. Short and wide, asking to be hit as they say, and Sarkar obliged. But instead of someone in the crowd throwing it back, it was Kohli at short cover who intervened. Bangladesh slipped to 74 for 2. One could understand why Pandya didn’t want to celebrate this wicket as it was a gift from the batsman.
Liton Das was looking good on 22, and had added 41 runs with Shakib Al Hasan, when Pandya began the second over of his second spell, and the 30th of the chase. Das had just smoked a length delivery from Pandya for a six over long-on but Pandya surprised him with a sharp, well-directed bouncer at 138kmph. It reared up at the head and Das couldn’t wriggle out of it. He tried a pull but looked hurried and harried as he went into that shot. It popped up to midwicket and Pandya had that silent celebration – a look at Das as he walked.
His next wicket was the most important of the day. Shakib had looked completely in control, punching on the up and generally doing what he pleased with the bowling. He would drive and if the mood seized him, steer it late to third man or suddenly, stand tall and punch past the bowlers. That punch shot that he repeatedly doled out in the stunning chase he led against West Indies was yet again the most impressive shot of his arsenal but he was outdone by Pandya.
In the 33rd over, his fourth in the second spell, Pandya decided to throw all his slower variations at Shakib. First came the slow bouncer and Shakib leaped and tried to drag-pull it, but was thrown off by the slowness and the height. Next ball, Shakib shuffled to the on side, checking if Pandya falls for the pressure. Instead, a slower one arrived, full and following Shakib who was getting into a drive which was chipped into short cover’s hands. Yet again, Pandya just had a look and started to walk.
That was that, really. Even though Mohammad Saifuddin and Sabbir Rahman took them from 169 for 6 (Shakib’s fall) to 245 before Rahman fell, and kept Bangladesh’s hopes alive, it has to be said that Pandya had broken their back with his triple strike.
Pandya’s bowling has been reliable in this tournament. He doesn’t have that one delivery that can make a batsman sweat. What comes to mind when you think of his bowling? No special signature delivery but what he has done is work the angles really well, mix up the pace smartly, have the smarts to work out what to bowl at different batsmen, when to bowl short and when to slow up the pace. India, though, still have a lot to mull over about this 28-run win that has put them in the semifinals. The batting meandered again after the top four fell. In fact, it was for the first time that their specialist No. 4 made some runs. Pandya had done so in that position before but this time Rishabh Pant made 48.
However, they slipped after that. No one really took control and India fell short of what they seemed capable of. But along with the other bowlers, Pandya ensured it wouldn’t hurt them. For now, the Indian house looks safe but the windows are broken. Their ardent fans would say it doesn’t matter how you win as long as you win. True, of course, but don’t be surprised if you are robbed one day.