After having started his international career as a back-up bowling option, Hardik Pandya now believes that he can do the job as a frontline seamer. Apart from Arshdeep Singh, Hardik is the only India seamer to have bowled his full quota of four overs in each of the three T20Is so far in the Caribbean. On Tuesday, on a used Basettere pitch, Hardik handcuffed West Indies’ big hitters with a mixture of slower offcutters and on-pace deliveries.
“Obviously, I’ve enjoyed bowling,” Hardik said after India secured a 2-1 series lead. “Again I’ve mentioned multiple times, that was the reason I felt I should take some time off to make sure my bowling comes off because I’ve realised when I bowl, it gives a lot of balance to the side; it gives a lot of confidence to the captain.
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“Yes, I used to bowl before. I used to be a filler in between when someone is not bowling well. I can proudly say I can bowl four overs now as a third seamer or a fourth seamer where I can contribute equally as I do with the bat.”
When Hardik was introduced into the attack in the third T20I, West Indies were 32 for 0 in four overs, with Kyle Mayers dominating the early exchanges. After seeing Mayers swat his on-pace short ball over midwicket with the strong wind, Hardik shifted his lines wider, varied his pace more regularly, and challenged the batters to hit against the wind.
Hardik sent Brandon King’s leg stump cartwheeling with a slower offcutter into the pitch and then beat Mayers three times in a row in the tenth over by taking his cutters away from the left-hander’s reach with his sharp angle from over the wicket. He finished with figures of 1 for 19, and after India wrapped up a seven-wicket victory, even Mayers conceded that Hardik and India had used the conditions better than West Indies.
“For me, it’s the approach that I’m following,” Hardik said. “I understood that if you enjoy life and be in a frame of mind where you are positive, eventually a lot of the time the result goes your way. So, for me, it’s not about the result. It’s about how I take the game on, how smart I’m thinking and how I can make sure I use the situation and condition[s] which is offering me something with the bat or the ball.”
Hardik on T20I vice-captaincy: ‘I enjoy responsibility, it adds flair to my game’
India captain Rohit Sharma was impressed with how Hardik and R Ashwin operated in the middle overs to keep Nicholas Pooran and the other middle-order hitters in check.
“How we bowled in the middle overs [was pleasing],” Rohit said. “I think that was very, very crucial because they were about to get that big [opening] partnership and with few of their experienced players batting in the middle and I thought we used the conditions really well. We used our variations pretty well and then how we chased the runs, I thought it was quite clinical.”
‘Responsibility adds more flair to my game’
Being appointed T20I vice-captain for the West Indies tour has raised his game to a new level, Hardik has said. Earlier this year, he captained Gujarat Titans to IPL glory in their first season and then oversaw India’s 2-0 sweep of a spirited Ireland side in Malahide.
“I’ve always enjoyed responsibility and it has added more and more to my game,” Hardik said. “Whenever I’ve taken the responsibility, it has added some more flair to my game because it makes me think more and when I think more it just adds more value to my cricket.”
Hardik also lauded Rohit for building a team environment that gave players – even those on the bench – security, echoing Dinesh Karthik’s comments from the T20I series opener in Tarouba.
“Obviously, very privileged to get the opportunity to be vice-captain,” Hardik said. “When the captain gives you a lot of flexibility and lot of freedom, which is his strength throughout his captaincy stint, whenever I’ve played with him… and here as well a lot of credit goes to him on how they’ve got the team together and making sure that a lot of positive mindset comes in and at the same point of time players are feeling secure. They’re not looking over their shoulder, making sure they’re getting ample chances, and they are being told as well if they’re not playing.”