For me, Hardik Pandya is one of the Caribbean boys. Whenever I’ve met him, he has that swagger with headphones on always, and even talks like the West Indies cricketers: “Hey maaan, how are you?” It’s influenced him greatly – and it shows in his choice of music, clothes, tattoos or the gold that is both his jewellery and hairstyle. He gives you a good vibe.
But where I think he is not just behaving like them, but also playing like them is his impeccable bat-speed. It’s something new he’s found in himself, we’ve never seen anything like his batting swoosh before. The bat speed wasn’t the same sometime back.
The speed at which his bat strikes the ball and finishes the curve is faster than even the oncoming ball! That’s why it goes the distance that it does. It’s the West Indies style — you see (Andre) Russell, Pollard, the whacking bat speed comes naturally to them.
Now for me, Vivian Richards was the hardest hitter of the cricket ball and he had maximum swag. He wasn’t scared of anyone. If I built a body in my career, it was because of Richards. I met him at a Cuffe Parade hotel back then, and seeing his forearm — it was almost the size of my thighs! — I asked him, ‘Sir as a cricketer, why do you need such a big body?’ He said, ‘To hit harder son’. That is when I decided to start gymming. He was the only cricketer I was scared of, for he could break the bowler’s morale with his pivot and hook at lightening speed. Hardik has a long way to go, but his bat-speed is like Sir Vivian’s.
Now, Hardik is lean but his shoulders are powerful. Lean does not mean you are not powerful. Even Bruce Lee was like that, but he was a powerhouse. Bulky doesn’t mean you are very strong either. 90% of the bulky guys don’t know how to move.
Hardik, like Richards, is not intimidated by anything, he’s very, very confident. Because he is mentally very strong, he doesn’t carry that nervousness. Bindaas jaake khelta hai. He has that Vivian Richards swag. Chewing gum khaate khaate maarke chala aayega. Suddenly, people are loving him. The same people who used to say earlier that bahut akad hai, kaisa chalta hai, will now say how deadly he is.
Yes, there was the controversy (on Koffee with Karan). I can tell you (as a Bollywood personality), if someone is asking negative questions all the time, I will have to answer. I might not have wanted to give negative answers. So what happens is in the heat of the moment, he said things, and that’s the kind of show it is. Jab koi bulwaata hai aapse, aur khudse bolne mein bahot farak hai. So that’s the difference.
But he made a superb comeback. Somewhere down the line, his parents believed in him. A lot of people believed in him. Bad boys will only be appreciated on the good they are doing. Hardik is super talented and he bounced back brilliantly. He must have felt now he has only one chance, if I don’t perform I am out.
Physically you to have to be very fit to get that bat speed. And he loves going across, now he’s playing that Dhoni helicopter shot. It’s a kind of swing which needs minimum weight of the shoulder and minimum weight on the body but it’s pure timing. He (Hardik) combines that, he uses the Dhoni swing also, so it goes full arm. It’s like you naturally swing your arm. It’s a beautifully controlled shot. I have never seen this kind of cricket from Hardik and because of the bat speed, you see where does the ball goes. He hits maximum sixes for his side.
He’s also an intelligent bowler, but very injury-prone. Somewhere down the line I feel he needs to correct his diet, I don’t think the nutrition side of his diet is right at the moment. He burns energy fast, his metabolism is very high because of which he needs a proper nutritionist and diet. Because that back injury will keep giving him niggles. To avoid that he needs to work on his body. He’s a superb talent and very good all-rounder, but he might need to change his workout and stretching. He has to be more cautious about it — sometimes dehydration and excessive strain together gives a stiff back. A stiff back gives you injury. It’s a very precious back.
Talking about our captain, Virat Kohli, I often say that if you put the India flag over his RCB T-shirt, he will end up scoring more runs. He has some connect with his country. While playing for India, he is very proud Indian. So in place of RCB logo, they should put India’s logo, and they will win.
In RCB, he doesn’t have a complete team, right now it’s a weak team in terms of bowling. In the Indian team, he has an outstanding bowling unit and as a batsman he leads from the front. He has fantastic fielders, be it Jadeja or Pandya or any of the youngsters. That’s why Virat is on a winning spree. When batting he says I will lead. When bowling, he has five Anmol Ratans.
Virat has brought aggression into the team, he is loud and brash. When you lose, you keep calm but when you win you make a lot of noise, this is the format of the Angrez and Australians. You will never see Virat having panga with the New Zealand team.
Virat gives off a positive energy, he is super-fit. One of the first advertisements he did was with me — Sangam. Me and Virat got along like a house on fire. Back then he used to be a Delhi boy, who wanted to eat everything. Butter chicken bhi chaiye tha, paneer bhi chaiye tha. Bindaas tha. Now he is conscious about his diet. Today he inspires you to be fit. Something that others can emulate.
He has given India a reason to win. Youngsters now only talk about winning, something our generation didn’t have. Ek Sunil Gavaskar out hota tha, ghaaslet (kerosene) ki line lag jaati thi. We as viewers have changed too. Now when I see the TV, my heart doesn’t threaten to give up – earlier the stress of watching was so much, I’d think I would die. My mother would urge me to turn the TV off fearing I would collapse.
Virat has given us that confidence. In fact he has influenced other sportspersons. They are copying his walk, his attitude. They are fearless. Virat possesses this quality of new India — progressive, fearless, fit and takes pride in the country.
(Suniel Shetty has acted in over 100 movies.)