Hardik has a very mature head on his shoulders, says skipper Rohit

Vital cog: Hardik is widely predicted to be crucial to India’s fortunes in the World Cup. 

Vital cog: Hardik is widely predicted to be crucial to India’s fortunes in the World Cup. 
| Photo Credit: File photo

In November 2021, with a chronic injury reducing him primarily to a batter who could bowl a bit, many feared whether Hardik Pandya would be able to revive his international career.

Cut to October 2023, and the all-rounder could well emerge as the key to India’s World Cup campaign. Having gone through a rigorous rehab and training programme, changed his approach and lifestyle, Hardik 2.0 has resurfaced as a composed and reliable player.

No wonder then that captain Rohit Sharma is heavily dependent on his deputy to continue his dream run for the next two and a half months, starting with India’s first Asia Cup Super Four outing against arch-rival Pakistan here on Sunday.

“You saw the quality in the last game against Pakistan. Ishan (Kishan) and Hardik put their hands up and scored well. Obviously with bowling too he is great. He has bowled well in the last year and a half for us. His form will be crucial to us. He is a guy who does both the things, and that’s important,” Rohit said after India’s World Cup squad was announced in Pallekele on Tuesday.

“The way he batted in the last game showed that he has a very mature head on his shoulders. These are qualities of good batters. In the last year or so, he has come good with the bat and his bowling has been good too. That’s important for us.”

Since the 2019 World Cup, Hardik’s ODI progress has to be judged in two halves. With his severe back injury troubling him time and again, he was far from being a genuine all-rounder for the next two years.

While his batting didn’t suffer much, he bowled only in five of the nine ODIs he played in that phase.

Post-2021, however, Hardik has been a revelation. While Hardik, the batter, has adopted the accumulator’s role, playing perfectly to the situation more often than not, it’s his bowling contribution that has stood out.

In the 16 matches he has played in the last 18 months, he has bowled in every innings barring one. And the fact that he is back to his bowling best — despite not clocking consistently in the 140+ kph range — is underlined in a remarkable improvement in his economy rate and average.

Add to that his elevation as Rohit’s deputy — and having captained India thrice in the captain’s absence — and Hardik will definitely be one of the most — if not the most — vital cogs in India’s Mission 2023.

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