Hardik Pandya is fine, India have bigger issues

ndia are 2-0 down in the test series in England and the blame game has started which is fair enough as the visitors have not showcased even half of the potential they carry or their coach boasts of carrying, but the Indian fans, as usual, have again got it wrong in terms of the personnel they are pointing out as their target.

As it has been the case in the past as well, we have this habit of bashing soft targets, and in this instance, that soft target has turned out to be the young all-rounder Hardik Pandya.

Hardik, in the four innings of two test matches so far, has scored 90 runs at an average of 22.50 which are definitely not the most significant batting numbers you get to see in the longest format of the game, but when you compare them to the numbers of some of the other specialist batsmen India have played at Edgbaston and Lord’s, they do seem significant.

KL Rahul, widely tipped as India’s next big thing in all formats of the game, has scored 35, Ajinkya Rahane, India’s most successful batsmen during the last overseas cycle the team went on, has scored 48 and Murali Vijay, India’s solid specialist test match opener, has scored 26 in the same no. of innings.

The lackluster performance of the others, by no means, justifies what Hardik has done or doesn’t prove that he has been remarkable with either bat or ball, but what it definitely suggests is that Hardik is not the main man responsible for India’s defeats and not the one who should be singled out as the first man for public bashing.

While we talk about young players, we need to look at more than just the numbers. Hardik is someone who has only played 20 odd first-class matches barring the test matches and the only reason he has been fast-tracked into test cricket is that India was desperate for a seam-bowling all-rounder who adds the much-needed balance to the XI overseas.

The lad has just been to a couple of overseas tours so far. In South Africa, he came across some of the worst pitches you will ever witness for red ball cricket, not because they seamed, but because they didn’t produce a fair contest between bat and ball.

The South Africa series was all ball-versus-ball rather than bat-versus-ball and to judge a young player on surfaces like those would not only be harsh, but unfair. And Hardik, to his credit, in the first test match there in Cape Town scored a sparkling 93 which almost turned the game in India’s favor.

As far as England is concerned, it’s different from any other venue in the world simply because of the overhead conditions and the kind of balls they use there. The dark clouds hovering overhead most of the time and the duke balls with their prominent seam mean the swing bowling remains in the picture almost all day. Any youngster playing there for the first time need a few games to get accustomed to those conditions, especially when they are facing the likes of James Anderson and Stuart Broad.

What has been impressive about Hardik is that he has been willing to learn and has gone out there with a game plan, rather than just walking in cluelessly and been bulldozed by Anderson & company. Watching his skipper Virat Kohli making the mockery of English attack at Edgbaston, Hardik quickly took a leaf out of his book and stood outside the crease when he batted in the second innings in that game.

The idea was to get as close to the ball as possible and try and smother the swing. The 24-year old was well on his way of stitching a match winning partnership with Kohli himself before the latter fell prey to an in-dipper from Ben Stokes.

Hardik is not a genuine test match all-rounder that they describe in textbooks. He is not an Andrew Flintoff who can deliver match-defining spells and at the same time can smash the opposition bowlers to all parts. Hardik is more of a batsman who bowls a bit and he should always be judged for his primary forte which is his batting.

However, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t need to improve his bowling. He doesn’t have the quality to be an attacking test match bowler, but he definitely will have to add some discipline and control to his bowling which he currently lacks, so that he can at least do the holding for his captain as the fourth seamer if he is not taking a whole lot of wickets.

There is no denying that Hardik’s development as a test match bowler hasn’t been the most smooth, but the 24-year old, in his brief test match career, has definitely shown enough with the bat for the Indian team management to put faith in him and give him a long rope, preferably as a no. 6 batsman. If Hardik cracks the best version of himself, it will go a long way in transforming India into a champion team in all conditions across the globe.