Such was the impact of Hardik Pandya’s onslaught that it had both the rival captains on the same page and speaking the same language.
Not in the strictest sense of the word, but while India captain Virat Kohli described that knock as a game-changer, his counterpart Steve Smith termed it a match-winning innings.
If you were to not argue about semantics and instead focus on the full import of what they said and where they were coming from, it’s not hard to look beyond Pandya for orchestrating the home team’s jail-break in the first ODI on Sunday. And if we were to indulge in crystal-gazing, it would lead us to the end of an interminable, and often excruciating search operation for an all-rounder since the retirement of the iconic Kapil Dev.
After doing more than his bit with the bat in the gloaming, it was Pandya’s worth as an all-rounder that shimmered the brightest under the floodlights when he spelled doom with the ball accounting for the dangerous Steve Smith and Travis Head.
Enough damage for Kohli to rave about his all-round brilliance. “Hardik believes in himself, and his innings was the game-changer. He possesses all three skills equally and we are lucky to have him,” praised the Indian skipper. As if parroting what Kohli mouthed, Smith singled out the partnership Pandya shared with MS Dhoni as the key to the match’s outcome.
“That partnership changed the game. They put 120 odd and took them from 87 to 206. In the end that proved to be a match-winning partnership. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to capitalise on the start we had,” rued Smith. Starting from the Sri Lanka series, what has stood out is the admirable gumption and spunk demonstrated by India’s lower order after the top-half was sent packing early. What the surgical strike inflicted by Pandya on Sunday evening has done is enable the team management to play around the combination and reinforced Kohli’s belief in sticking to the five-bowler theory in all formats. “We spoke at the toss that we wanted to put on a big score. We lost wickets but MS (Dhoni) and Kedar played well. Hardik and later MS finished it off like he does. Today was an example of how good the middle and lower order can be,” added Kohli.
At the post-match press conference, Smith blamed his side’s inability to stick to the bowling plans that let Pandya off the hook. “I think we probably we went away from our plans a little bit. We were hitting such a good length and certainly persisted with that for a while with the good bouncers we were bowling. We were trying too many things, too many slower balls, just not hitting that good hard length we were hit early on. The message to Zampa as well was to bring his length back a bit. He was bowling very full and Hardik looked like hitting everyone of those for a six. He just bowled a fraction full and paid the price,” analysed the Aussie captain.