In a chat with Bharat Sundaresan, India’s premier all-rounder Hardik Pandya talks about his perennial quest to change perceptions regarding his personality, his adorable relationship with brother Krunal — despite the Twitter fracas between the Pandya brothers, which Hardik insists was a ‘promotional event’
Not many cricketers have had ‘before-after’ conversations about them at such a young age, with such fervour.
It’s good that people are saying I’ve changed for the better. Personally, I don’t think much has changed. It’s just that I’ve got slightly better at my fitness and my other routines. I’m still confident but probably have toned it down a little. It’s always about your performance. I didn’t have a great IPL season last year, and that’s when there was a lot of talk. I do get disappointed a lot. Even after this IPL season, I felt that I should have scored more runs in a couple of innings.
There’s also this whole style bhai reference that pops up often in your context, with many insisting your reactions aren’t always natural.
Someone asked me yesterday about how both jeet and haar mein Hardik likes to show his emotions. But that’s not something that has happened in the last two years. That’s how I have been since I was 16. Whatever you see is natural. From a young age, people used to say I have an attitude problem because I used to react. It was funny. As a 16-year-old I didn’t know what attitude meant. I wasn’t educated to that level (laughs).
I’m glad that I’m not captaining the side. In that case, the camera will be on me and they will see a different reaction every ball. Like in the final, when Krunal (Pandya) dropped a catch, I was on the floor because I was highly disappointed. I wasn’t expecting the camera to pick that up and the camera eventually wasn’t on me.
What were these ‘attitude problems’?
From U-13 to U-17, I used to be dropped from the junior state team because of this “attitude problem”. But I was just an expressive child. If I don’t like something about you, I will say it to your face. That’s why I feel like I am who I am. I don’t like to hide my emotions. Obviously, I need to understand when and what I can say, and that’s part of my learning.
You never thought of doing something about this ‘problem’?
I’ve always believed one thing. Just because you say ‘good morning’ and ‘good night’ to a coach doesn’t mean you respect him. You should have respect in your heart. I wasn’t the guy who would just say things for courtesy’s sake. And people didn’t like that. It was just that my body language used to be different from the other kids. I used to wear different clothes, and they used to be like yeh pehle dekha nahi hai. When I reached the Baroda U-19 team, the same people who used to say this guy has an attitude problem started saying this guy has the best attitude. This is the way you should play. So it’s just that once you start performing, perceptions change.
Did having a more sober elder brother (Krunal) lead to bhai-toh-aisa-nahi-hai-isko-kya-ho-gaya comparisons?
Funnily, according to people, I was always the better one. I never really bothered too much about those comparisons. Krunal never thought or told me that I was doing anything wrong. For him and my parents, I was always perfect and those are the opinions I care about. Krunal knows the “inside-me” better than anyone and felt that whatever I was doing was right. With time I also learnt one thing, if people need to understand me, then I need to be more balanced instead of only being the “I’ll be myself” kind of guy.
In IPL 2015, you became the star. It seemed the perfect platform for someone like you to express himself?
At Mumbai Indians, they just wanted me to enjoy my game and I was just a young kid expressing himself, and who eventually got success. I was getting used to the fame. No one knew who Hardik Pandya was before 2015 IPL. I got picked for Rs 10 lakh. If people knew me I would have got a lot more money, not that it’s only about the money. I was from a struggling family. Well, we had a good family and then things changed, father’s health and all had a grave effect. That helped us. Where we are standing now is because of that situation. It is because how we coped with that.
How did you and Krunal cope with the sudden change in financial status?
As a family we never sat down and had a proper discussion about it. We just knew that things are going to change. Krunal and I are very confident people. I was more ambitious than him. I always dreamt big. I always wanted cars, fancy things and the only way I could get that was through my sport. It was also a passion, so it helped. Back then, my coping mechanism was being at the ground all the time. I did that for four years between 16 and 20. I used to get so tired that I had no energy to think about the financial problems really. There were times when Krunal and I would ask questions to the Almighty, “Why us? Why are only we having problems for 2-3 years? What have we done?” But that would last for a minute or two. Then like the jugaadu guys that we were, we sorted things out. Many times I wouldn’t go out with friends and all because I didn’t want to be embarrassed about saying I don’t have money, you pay for me.
You agree with the perception that the India A tour changed things around completely for you?
That’s right. A lot of people used to think I was a party kid, but I haven’t gone for more than one or two parties overall in the IPL. I got that reputation just because of my personality. During that India A tour, people there realized that this guy is not like that. I also changed my sleeping and eating habits and focused more on my fitness and my game. When I got the call, I was really excited and thought God wants me to do something nice. Let’s put everything in this tour, and it worked, and I made my comeback to the Indian team in two-and-a-half months when many said I wouldn’t come back even in 2 years. I should thank Rahul Sir as well, he went out of his way and talked me up. Before the last four-day game, I didn’t score runs, and then I scored 81 from a position where the score was 46/6, and from there I got picked for the ODIs, got the man of the match award in the first game, had a good series against New Zealand and get picked for the England Tests, got injured and again came back and had a wonderful series, eventually having a couple of good months with the Indian team. I’m lucky that most of the international matches I’ve played have gone my way. My stats are really good, and I reckon that they’ll stay that way.
Rahul Dravid is credited to have been your guiding light on that tour. What were your interactions like with him?
I still remember when I got out a couple of times in the one-dayers, he used to ask me to come and sit next to him and tell me, “Hardik you are the one guy who has the talent to represent India, so you need to express yourself and take charge of situations.” I still remember I ran myself out in the league game against Australia A. We needed some 23 off 19 balls then, and I thought this will be easy, but then we lost by 1 run. He was not angry. He just said that, “You should start finishing the games. That’s what you’ll be doing for India.” And I thought if Rahul Dravid has this belief in me, I should also start believing that I can finish games.
There was one pre-match day last year during the IPL when things weren’t going your way and you looked completely broken.
I actually don’t want to talk about that day. I was just down and frustrated. I was done with everything. I’d had enough. I was like, ‘let’s not care about anything. Just play the game, enjoy and stop thinking about what people expect from you’. Cricket is a great leveller. I learnt it that day.
So working under Dravid came at the right time?
I also started learning about myself on that tour. I started a new routine. I used to go out for long walks by myself, and think about life. I never used to go out. I was always a room guy. But you can’t shut yourself out.
Your teammates always seem to somewhat gravitate towards you.
Whatever I and Krunal do is for the team. That’s been our funda throughout. Even if your day has been bad, it’s about the team. I didn’t do anything in this year’s IPL final, but the only way I could have helped was through fielding. That’s why I was giving 200 per cent on the field and diving for everything.
What about this tag of being a ‘rockstar’?
That’s alright. I don’t mind. I like the attention. I got this ‘rockstar’ image thanks to former Mumbai teammate Aiden Blizzard who named me that. I don’t even listen to rock music.
So what kind of music do you listen to?
I love commercial music. I only listen to Hindi music and only a few English songs that others tell me about, though, half of the time I don’t understand the lyrics. That’s the story with most of us. Only 1 or 2 per cent understand the exact lyrics, otherwise I’ve seen, they make up their own lyrics with that tune like I do. I love Sufi and fusion music. I love to wear flashy clothes and I’m a fashion guy. I don’t think about what anyone will say. If I feel the need to wear glasses on the field, even in the night, I do that.
You used to be a regular on Instagram and other social media.
I don’t even remember the last time I opened my comments box on Facebook or Instagram and properly checked everything that’s being said about me. If I do well, they’ll say good things, if I don’t they’ll say bad things. I got used to handling it within the first year itself. I learn quickly in life whatever it may be. And I have a smart brother as well.
Does the brother monitor a lot of stuff for you?
Yeah, he does. I don’t know my bank account or how much money I have in my account. Half of things I’m supposed to know, he knows. I didn’t know who my CA was. I enjoy my life, and I trust him and I have parents who will look after me. I don’t trust people easily. All the friends I have are Krunal’s friends. That’s OK. I don’t want plenty of friends. I like good people. We have such a good bond with everyone in the Indian team now. There’s a brotherhood from Virat (Kohli) to Mahi bhai (Dhoni)to KL (Rahul) to Shikki (Dhawan) and everyone who’s there.
Generally people who like attention, like having many people around them.
I think having less friends means less jhanjhat.
There was that brief Twitter battle you had with your brother and everyone assumed there was something up between you two.
That was just a promotional thing. Both of us weren’t aware of it. Our manager posted it. Can’t happen, me and Krunal having differences like that.
Do you see the Pandya brothers operating in tandem soon in national colours?
I would love to see Krunal come into the side. That will be emotional for me considering I’ve always seen him being the junior cricketer, struggling in his life, and now coming and showing his talent for two back-to-back years in the IPL.
Not worried about who’ll take care of your bank balance then?
No I think it’ll still be him. He’s good enough to take care of both our bank balances. My money is always in his account. I don’t keep anything in my account because I have a different lifestyle. I don’t know what I am going to do with my money. So it’s better to keep it with a safer guy. He earns more than me in the IPL. I might be getting more in terms of my Indian contract and all. So I spend money from his account only. If I want to buy something I just use his money.
You were a different beast in terms of confidence with the bat in this IPL.
I just knew that if the opportunity comes, I am just going to do it. I was very confident. I wasn’t thinking about failure. That’s why Mumbai are the winners. We don’t have the Orange or the Purple cap or any cap. Others have the caps, we have the cup.
Speaking of the opposition, there were many who said that you had a counter to all their plans with bat in hand.
It’s just that I like to plan a lot pre-game. I read the game well I think. And I knew there would be many plans for me. So I was just trying to cover all parts. Some went toe-yorkers, wide yorkers, everything, but I had the counter-plan because I was working on everyone. I used to bat for one-and-a-half hours every session in practice.
There are some big occasion players, and you seem to love bowling the last over and finishing a match.
I enjoy that. Before I bowled that Bangladesh over in the World T20, I told the umpire, “If I do this, I will be the hero, but if I don’t I’ll be public enemy No.1”. He was actually laughing a lot and said, “Mate good luck.” And after the game he gave me the ball and said you deserve it. I like the hero or zero scenario. If you are the hero you check what people say for your confidence. But if you are a zero, you don’t need to check. You’ll know yourself.
You’ve also become a much quicker bowler now.
I’m more confident about my bowling and it’s always about being the fittest you can be. It’s helped me. Now if I want to bowl 140+, I can bowl 143, but again if I have to bowl long spells, I can bowl 135 also. That’s good for the team.
Did you ever want to be a genuinely fast bowler in junior cricket?
It just happened. I never expected that I’ll get pace like this. I’ve heard from people that it’s often difficult to even add 3-4 km to your pace and you need a couple of years to reach the 140 mark. But I was lucky that in one year or six months, I’ve gone from 130 to 144-145. I’m a lucky child.
Have you ever thought about how that has happened?
I haven’t changed anything. It’s only fitness and clarity in my head. Honestly you don’t know. No bowler knows how he got quicker, it’s only fitness that he can mention. When people now come and ask me how to increase pace, I tell them I don’t know, just get fitter. For me extra pace means, I can scare batsmen as well if I want to.
Speaking of pace, your life has been on fast-forward mode.
If you can get the success at 23, why do you want to wait till 25? If I get what I’m going to get at 28 at 25, then I’m happy with that. That means I’m going to get better things at 28.
Are those in the Indian dressing room now seeing you differently as well as compared to the World Twenty20 stint last year?
I can sense that. People come and talk cricket with me. Last year during the World T20, I was just a kid. They realize I have matured. See even I had not seen that kind of fame. And yes, it was all happening on fast-forward and I became famous quickly and I became a household name and people started knowing me. I started having fans. I had never had fans. I was getting used to it. I guess now I am used to it to being a normal guy who’s playing a sport and dealing with the fame that comes with it.
You weren’t a normal guy playing sport a year back?
Maybe I was thinking that I am a star. Now I am not entering the ground thinking that I’m a star playing but just a guy who enjoys the sport and wants to do well for the country.