By Veturi Srivatsa
The Sri Lankan series, on thought, is done and dusted once India wrapped it up in Colombo, winning the second Test to take a 2-0 lead. Not so, with young Hardik Pandya pumping life into the third and last Test at Pallekele with his exciting all-round showing.
India winning the series, their eighth in a row and 3-0 at that, for the first time overseas, was never in doubt, looking at the overall strength of the Sri Lankan side. All won by big margins, the first one by 304 runs and the next two by an innings.
If Sri Lanka’s batting looked pedantic, their bowling was pedestrian. The home team seemed to have lost their will to fight. They will have to regroup if they have to start winning at home.
The Sri Lankans have an opportunity to bounce back psychologically by putting up a sterner fight in the five-match One-Day series starting next week.
Ever since Kapil Dev left the international cricket scene, the lament has been that the Indian team doesn’t have an all-rounder of his class, knowing fully well such stars do not get on to a cricket field all that frequently.
India could only make do with bowlers who wielded the bat to get good runs, they all happen to be spinners like Anil Kumble, Harbhajan Singh, Ravichandran Ashwin who all have Test hundreds to their name, the last two more than one. In the all-rounders category comes the wicket-keeper and Wriddhiman Saha is fulfilling tha batsman’s role quite efficiently.
Now both the selectors and the Indian team management think that Pandya has the mettle to be the all-rounder they are looking for. After his first three Tests, he appears to be a batting all-rounder who can bend his back with the ball. He is also a livewire in the field and that completes his role.
It was Mahendra Singh Dhoni who saw some spark in Pandya and he must have clearly passed on his impressions about the Gujarat youngman to his successor Virat Kohli for careful nursing.
Kohli, an unabashed admirer of Dhoni, has taken the cue and is willing to invest time and effort in making Pandya a worthwhile all-rounder. He is going out of his way to promote him.
He made Pandya bat at number 8 behind Ashwin and Saha and bowl him not as a third seamer but as a fifth bowler after running through his mainline exponents.
How does Pandya fit into the Kohli’s scheme of things? If the captain wants a genuine fifth bowler he had Ishant Sharma and Bhuvneshwar Kumar and if he looking at a pure batsman he had Rohit Sharma, all well experienced at Test level.
Kohli, however, was firm on playing Pandya and he was clearly the happiest man when the 23-year-old smashed his first fifty in the first Test and a hundred in the third. He made no secret of his delight for getting vindicated.
It is not Pandya’s hundred but the way he got it proves Kohli’s point. He got his hundred in the company of the two Yadavs, Kuldeep, playing only in his second Test, and last man Umesh, both in the team as bowlers.
Pandya’s hard hitting is all too well-known, after his exploits in the IPL and the way he batted in the few matches he played in the shorter formats. Such clean hitting in Tests is not done or seen all too often. There are no half measures with him, he hits straight and clean, connecting most of his shots with the middle of the bat.
Stats always make hundreds that much more exciting, Pandya’s coming in 86 balls and he smote seven sixes. Come to think of it, this is his first first-class hundred, though there were four other Indians before him to do the same, including Kapil Dev.
There are already headlines hailing Pandya as the new Kapil Dev, unfair to the young man who has not watched the great stalwart bat or bowl. Pandya was born five months before Kapil ended his international cricket career in March 1994.
As for his bowling, there is something unique about it. He looks like taking wicket anytime, producing an unplayable delivery with his quick pace and line.
The national selectors apparently have a plan for the 2019 World Cup and they want to rotate a set of players in the next five months before finalising the squad.
The selectors dropped or rested seven players from the side that played in the West Indies. Some of the ‘rested’ ones are going to play County Cricket to prepare for India’s tour of England next year!
All this is part of the selectors and Kohli’s plans. The Indian captain seemed to have picked up Nitish Kumar’s taunt of the Opposition, to be proactive, not reactive!
That’s what Kohli wants to be as captain.
(Veturi Srivatsa is a senior journalist. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at [email protected])
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