Hardik Pandya and the quest to find the next Kapil Dev

A tweet from Mohandas Menon, the esteemed cricket statistician, caught the attention of cricket fans this morning. Hardik Pandya, India’s latest cricketing sensation, has some strong numbers early in his One-Day International (ODI) career, which put him ahead of Kapil Dev. For years the country has longed for an all-rounder to emulate the great Kapil. Over the years, there have been a few players who have shown talent in their young days but have withered away in due course.

Let us keep the numbers aside for a moment for they only indicate that Pandya has been magnificent so far. While it is an encouraging stat, it is in no way a guarantee for the future. Most fans will remember the case of Irfan Pathan, who bowled magnificently during the first two years of his career but lost the zing in his bowling thereafter even as his batting got better. Since then, there has been a cautionary approach to Indian all-rounders in drawing comparisons with the great Kapil.

However, there is something about Pandya that inspires confidence even without those good numbers. Firstly, it is the confidence with which he carries himself on the field and approaches the game. Even in the toughest situations, he seems to carry this aura around him and has the X-factor to push the opposition. India had a forgettable day at the ICC Champions Trophy 2017 final save for Pandya, who fought against the odds and for a brief moment presented the faintest glimmer of hope. That too wasn’t a flash in the pan. In the recently concluded ODI series against Australia, Pandya handled himself well when India collapsed early at Chennai. He then followed it up with good performances at No. 4.

Also, the key difference between Irfan and Pandya is that the latter is a product of the Dhoni era and grew up watching India lift the ICC World T20 2007 and the 2011 World Cup. Those wins have changed Indian cricket in the sense that they believed that they were big contenders for those marquee events. Look at any Indian cricketer today, and they tend to have that self belief as a unit and individually. Also, Pandya came through the ranks in the IPL, where those tricky situations as a middle-order batsman further strengthened his temperament and approach.

Having said that, Irfan had a different career build-up as he came in at a time when India was still a fledgling nation on the world stage, which was laying the groundwork for the victories ahead. The IPL too came a little later in his career as he mainly worked his way through domestic and under-19 cricket.

Now, the talk about Pandya being compared to Kapil is only quantitative but natural considering the spunk the youngster has shown with bat and ball. Even as a fielder, Pandya is brilliant and inspires confidence. But, let us remember that Pandya has a long way ahead if he has to emulate Kapil. Legends are where they are because they find a way to replicate those great performances time and again. So far, Pandya has shown that urge and fire for consistency. Unlike Kapil, he also has another, more unforgiving, format to deal with. If he can manage that consistency over a decade or so, then can we invoke qualitative comparisons.

For now, let us appreciate Pandya for being Pandya and what he brings to the Indian team.



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