Hardik Pandya stood there at end of follow through, wincing and scratching his two-day stubble. He had just been smashed for 19 runs in his second over, the 10th of the chase, and Australia had exploded after a sedate start. On a slightly slow pitch, chasing 353, Australia had to target Pandya, especially after Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar had been tight with the new ball. It wasn’t going to be easy. What does Pandya have that could stop Aaron Finch and David Warner?
We know couple of things about his bowling: Almost always, he likes to first check the bounce on the pitch by banging it in short. Then he settles on a length where he thinks he can slip in a few quiet overs and starts hitting it with regularity. Of late, he has been learning how to work the angles at the crease. He bowls the slow cutters, too. But seldom has he combined all that as effectively, mixing and matching them, as he did against Australia.
The second over must have been a shock – and it cleared any notions he might have had of settling on a back of length as Finch repeatedly bled him with cuts. At 54 for 0 in 10, suddenly Australia were in the game. Would Pandya crack under pressure or will India take him out of attack? Neither panic-result happened as Pandya rose to the occasion with a crafty little performance.
He switched angles in the same over, going from around the stumps to over and hurled in bouncers as well as slipping in the slower ones. He shifted from wide of the crease to closer to the stumps and moved from back of length to fuller. In other words, not only did he show cricketing intelligence but also had the control in execution.
And it wasn’t just a meaningless, context-less, mix of bunch of different deliveries stitched together in a spell; he tailored it to the different batsmen. To Warner, he used the surprise bouncers and deliveries kicking up length, and also targeted his leg and middle stump line. IPL had made clear that Warner had trouble with that line of attack; middle-and-leg line had kept him quiet. And Pandya went at it, relentlessly. Warner was either arching back, surprised at the bounce or falling over his front foot as the slower ones would defeat his pushes and prods and hit his thigh.
He returned later – bowling a three-over spell from the 24th over onwards and, yet again, he impressed with the variance in lengths. To Steve Smith, he generally kept it full in length around the off-stump line. To Usman Khawaja, he punctuated the slower cutters with a few bouncers. He gave 16 runs in that spell, which in the scheme of the chase, was a deal that his captain would have taken.
All this came on the back of an explosive knock that played a huge part in India finishing with a par-score and escalating beyond 350. It should have ended first ball when he poked at slow cutter from Nathan Coulter-Nile but the edge wasn’t taken by the ‘keeper Alex Carey.
Unfortunately for Australia, since they just have two good bowlers in Pat Cummins and Mitch Starc, they had to press the likes of Coulter-Nile, Glen Maxwell, and Adam Zampa, who was off-colour, and though they had the right ideas, they didn’t have the skills to back it up. A sharp bouncer to Pandya isn’t a bad idea but not at pace of Coulter-Nile. Maxwell tried flighting a couple without the guile to go with it and the crowd beyond midwicket stands appreciated getting a chance to look and feel the match ball.
And so we moved to the 44th over when Cummins came on for the first real test for Pandya. The first delivery was thrown back from long-on stands and the second, a shortish ball not too far from the body on the off-stump line, was met with a rasping cut that sent it plummeting to the backward point boundary.
By this time, as he did in IPL, Pandya had stationed himself in that off-stump stance and retreated well inside the crease. Next over, Cummins fired in a pretty good yorker-length delivery outside off stump and Pandya crouched to calmly and expertly steer it past the two-point fielders. That shot would have worried Australia for it told them that Pandya wasn’t just swinging big, not pre-determining his shots, but reacting to the demands of the ball. Though he fell in the 46th over, almost against the run of play, scooping Cummins to mid-off, he had provided the much-needed momentum to India’s innings and had set them on the path to a match-winning score.
More than his batting, though – not that it didn’t impact the game – India would be happy with the way he thought through his bowling.