Kiran More, the former India wicket-keeper, was at his cricket academy in Vadodara when a man from Surat dropped in along with his two young sons and a strange request. Himanshu, the father, wanted More to admit his two kids, Krunal and Hardik — aged 7 and 5 — in his academy.
Himanshu also told him that he was ready to move to Vadodara for the sake of his kids’ cricket career. More was in a dilemma as the boys were so young. Moreover, More’s academy had a rule — the minimum age had to be 12, and so, he declined to accept the kids. The father persisted and asked More to at least have a look at the boys batting at the cement nets. Just to humour him, More relented and asked one of his coaches to bowl a few deliveries at them.
What followed in the nets left More amazed. “I remember both Krunal and Hardik wore all the cricketing gears and the way they batted, it made me change my decision. It was the day I realised that talent can come in any form or in any age,” More says. That day More had to change his academy’s rule. More than a decade later, Krunal, the elder boy, is on the verge of finding a place in the Baroda Ranji squad, but it is Hardik who is on his way to becoming a household name. On Thursday night, at the Wankhede Stadium, his classy 32-ball 61 ensured Mumbai Indians posted a match-winning total against Kolkata Knight Riders.
More says what differentiates Hardik from others is the way the ball flies off his bat. “Ball solid bhagta hai uske bat se,” he says. More says he was convinced about Hardik’s ability after a tournament in Ahmedabad last year. Yusuf Pathan was struggling a bit and Hardik delivered a stand-out performance. It was enough for More to convince Mumbai Indians think-tank to have a look at the boy.
A life of hardships
Hardik has already validated the Rs 10 lakh pay cheque and is having the time of his life. However, his young happy face belies the hardships the family has faced in getting Hardik to this stage.
In 1999, Hardik’s father had moved to Vadodara where he did odd jobs before getting into a small-time car-finance business. The money wasn’t enough or regular and the two Pandya brothers would often spend entire days on the ground with just one meal of Maggi. Even as the boys started to make a name in the Baroda junior ranks, more trouble hit the family. Their father suffered heart-attacks thrice which meant the lone bread winner in the family was confined to bed rest, and had to quit work.
“It was very tough period for all of us. It was hard days because my father had three heart-attacks. We have not seen the worst phase in cricket but we saw it more in personal life,” Krunal recalls. On Thursday, Krunal was among the crowd at the Wankhede Stadium to witness his younger brother’s daring assault on the Kolkata bowlers. He wants to tell the world that his brother doesn’t slog for his runs. “Did you see his strokes. It was all cricketing shots, no slog-sweep. That’s his strength. He has a very smart cricketing brain. During the CSK game he didn’t charge Dwayne Bravo because he knew he is the best bowler. He quickly assesses the situation and than charges,” Krunal explains.
Meanwhile, in the Mumbai dressing room, Hardik has earned a new nickname — ‘Rockstar’. It’s because he does stuff in style, be it in dressing or playing cricket. And he has an affinity towards West Indies cricketers, evident in a Caribbean drawl that he speaks in post-match press conferences.
“He is ninth fail and I’m about to graduate but he does everything in style. See the way he spoke last night. He even writes English better than me because whatever he does is with confidence,” Krunal says.
Hardik’s old coach Jitender Singh calls him a man for crisis. Back in the club games, Hardik never had any fixed batting order. Whenever the team needed him, he just went and delivered. “He has won matches for us so many times. He is a bright prospect but he needs to learn to finish games now,” Singh says.
On the night he caught the nation’s eye, Hardik watched the highlights of his knock with his brother at the team hotel. Both brothers had quite a lot of text messages and calls to answer as well. The brothers hope that Thursday night proves to be just the start of many more special nights ahead.