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mohammad rizwan had struggled to force the pace in front of the square. so when hardik pandya threw a short ball at him, trying to arch back and push the ball well was a legitimate decision. except he may have underestimated hardik’s pace.
this was not the old hardik. this was hardik, the fast bowler, who can turn up the intensity when needed, by jumping and bending his back. the same runner who nearly gave up four years ago at the same venue against the same opponents in the same tournament.
on that afternoon in september 2018, hardik had to be carried out on a stretcher, after clutching his back in severe pain. Many questions. Will Hardik be able to go back to bowling at full speed? if he can’t, can he keep his spot on the team as a solo hitter? what does that do to team balance?
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Until February of this year, everything was shrouded in mystery, especially the bowling part. obviously, she hadn’t talked about it publicly. At a press event for the Gujarat Titans, where he was named captain, Hardik further stoked the fire when he said the answer “will be a secret.”
After last year’s t20 world cup, where hardik played as a specialist batsman, he decided to take a break. he went off the grid, including social media. he crafted a robot-like schedule with a focus on sleeping and training. every ball he threw, every ball he hit, every lap he ran around the ground, every squat he did was mapped.
then there came a time when hardik was afraid of being hit by the short ball.
He wasn’t used to wearing a chest protector, and realized it was an “ego problem”. Once his mentor Kiran More, the former goalkeeper from India, made him understand that it was perfectly acceptable for batsmen to wear a chest pad, and that even great batsmen of the past had done so, Hardik relented.
what happened on the ipl then is fresh in the memory. he hit top, middle, hitter, got under the cosh in tight spots and came out victorious. Hardik’s work behind the scenes as a bowler also paid off. the zipper was back, he was bowling at full speed and without the worry of someone who is always afraid of breaking. it was hardik 2.0 unleashed.
it’s this version we saw on sunday night in dubai, when he had rizwan completely off balance on the short ball. when rizwan arched his back, he had put himself in a position where it was impossible to jump. The ball kept coming at him and went flying off the face of the bat as Avesh Khan turned around and dove to hold in deep third. this was a classic fast bowler wicket.
You didn’t need to see the speed gun to know it was fast. Only once before had he thrown Iftikhar Ahmed into a hook that was caught by the goalkeeper. Two balls after Rizwan dropped, he had Khushdil Shah’s slice attempt to a heavy ball that found Ravindra Jadeja in deep cover. All three of his wickets had come loose from stress balls.
According to espncricinfo logs, all of hardik’s deliveries were in the short-length zone. nothing packed each of his three wickets came with the short ball. each of his deliveries also touched, and crossed, 140kph.
“In bowling, my plans were pretty simple,” Hardik told Star Sports after the match. “i always say the same thing. that’s how i use it. i say it’s important to assess the situation and the conditions, and use your weapon, which i feel, you know, long hard and hitting long is my strength. but i make sure i use it very wisely, I put some doubts in the hitter and ask them to play the wrong shot.”
however, despite all the work on the ball, the game was on a knife edge as india needed hardik the batsman to get to his feet. it had been a tough chase on a sticky surface. and it wasn’t until hardik’s three fours in the penultimate over, brought down by naseem shah, where he played the field and took advantage of pakistan having only three fielders out of the ring, due to his slow pace, that the game was in control from India.
it was a chase down the alley of mrs. dhoni. one where he knew the bowlers were under just as much pressure, if not more, than he was. and one mistake was enough. Then, with a necessary six of three, Hardik hit a flat six over long to finish it off. There were no fist bumps or angry growls, just a sense of calm and recognition that he had done a job that he always knew he could do.
“In hitting, over the years, I’ve understood [that] the calmer I can stay, it helps me execute all the plans,” Hardik said. “Those runs, the 50-50 chances I take, if I’m calmer, it helps me get it done. chases like this, you always plan more. for me, it started from 15. I knew we were falling short, but there’s a guy who’s making his debut [naseem] and there’s a left arm spinner [mohammad nawaz] obviously it was only seven runs [needed in the final] even if it was 15 I would have figured my chances.
“I try to keep [my mindset] as clean as possible. I don’t try to put too many thoughts into it because I feel like the bowler is much more under pressure than me. I have nothing to lose. I know it’s only a six. It’s not an ego thing. Against spinners, I like my chances better than fast shooters.”
rohit sharma was happy with the new and improved hardik, and talked about the work behind the scenes.
“he’s a lot calmer, yes, but he’s very confident in what he wants to execute on the field, whether it’s with the bat or the ball,” rohit said. “He’s pretty confident, he understands what kind of locations on the field he needs to have and he can shoot fast. We saw him today with those short balls. Obviously, it takes a lot of hard work.”
“it was more about understanding his own game. also with the bat, he was pretty calm in the middle, trying to guide the team through it and when we were in a situation like that, high pressure game, to get 10 races in a row, there are times when you can also panic. But he didn’t show that at all, he was pretty calm and helped us.”