When Hardik Pandya deposited Daniel Sams into the long-on stand in the last over at the Sydney Cricket Ground to seal the T20I series on Sunday, he ensured that the Indian team management won’t have to spend sleepless nights thinking about finding Dhoni’s successor.
For most part of the match, it seemed India’s lack of a sixth bowling option would again cost them dear. Conceding a score of 194/4 against an Australian batting lineup lacking the two powerhouses in Aaron Finch and David Warner isn’t a pleasant feeling anyway. Yet, India came out with players who have grown as specialists in the back end of a game. T Natarajan ended with figures of 2/20 from his four overs before Hardik’s unbeaten 42 off 22 balls meant India chased down the target with two balls and six wickets to spare.
It’s not that India are not used to chasing down such targets. Shikhar Dhawan laid just the foundation he is known for with his 36- ball 52. Skipper Virat Kohli, with his 24-ball 40, again showed glimpses of the beast he turns into in a chase. But this match will be about the confirmation of Hardik’s evolution as a responsible batsman on this tour.
Australia may have not fielded their first line of bowlers. They were without their fast-bowling rockstars Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood. But they had their T20 specialists like Sams, Andrew Tye and Sean Abbott, bred on Big Bash Leagues on these grounds, defending 194.
They had managed to take out Kohli, Dhawan and KL Rahul before they could run away with the game. India’s big investment Sanju Samson, who looks like he has signed a contract of throwing his wicket after hitting an awe-inspiring six, went for 15. That meant Hardik was left to chase more around 13 runs per over for six overs. And there was no Ravindra Jadeja to fall back on.
It came down to temperament, and Hardik had more experience to execute skills at the death. It was also his new-found composure that came through as he pounded Sams for two lusty sixes in the final over. He didn’t look like connecting his short-arm jabs down the ground for most part of his knock. Yet, he kept up with the run rate. Shreyas Iyer’s cameo of unbeaten 12 off five balls did help though.
“I don’t really like to take games to the last ball. So, I went for another six after I hit the first one in the final over,” Hardik quipped in a flash interview with the broadcasters after the match.
“During the lockdown, I had been thinking about the mistakes I had earlier committed while chasing. You always have a bit more time than you think in T20 cricket,” he later claimed in the post-match press conference. “It’s not about me going up the order. My batting never got highlighted we were top-heavy. I now think about playing the situation and finishing games,” he added.
India’s T20 cricket has never looked in better shape. They have things working for them. Hardik resuming his bowling would also plug their sixth-bowling hole.