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India vs New Zealand, 1st ODI: Pandyamonium in Dharamsala

On his ODI debut, all-rounder Hardik Pandya takes three wickets; India chase down 191-run target with six wickets to spare.

Written by Sandip G | Dharamsala |
October 17, 2016 1:21:13 am
india vs new zealand, ind vs nz, india new zealand, virat kohli, kohli, dharamsala, hardik pandya, ms dhoni, cricket score, cricket news, cricket India’s Hardik Pandya celebrates the dismissal of New Zealand opener Martin Guptill in Dharamsala on Sunday. (Source: PTI)

When Kapil Dev girdled the blue cap over Hardik Pandya’s flock of excessively gelled hair, the majestic Dhauladhar hadn’t quite acquired the silvery gleam that makes the venue among the most picturesque theaters of sport in the world. A thick foam of bubble-shaped stationary clouds had nearly devoured the craggy peaks, bald now, bereft of the snow and the sun unapologetically blazing down, as harsh as it could get on October afternoons in the city. Still, it might have been a most scenic venue for someone to make his debut.

But the aesthetics wouldn’t have overwhelmed Pandya. He has a knack of making debuts at picturesque venues. He played his first T20I at the idyllic Adelaide Oval earlier this year. And so, as the cameras relentlessly focussed on his face, perhaps to absorb any visible signs of dangling nerves, he smiled beatifically. Perhaps, if someone had asked him at that point whether he felt nervous, he would have retorted brashly like he had a few days before his trip to Australia early this year. He had then said, “I have a feeling that ab India ko all-rounder ke zaroorat nahi padegi.”

But his deeds didn’t quite match those words. After 16 T20Is, the overwhelming verdict was that he is an unfinished product, talented of course, but still replete with brazen edges. Apart from the last-over against Bangladesh in the T20 World — and even there MS Dhoni stole the show with of his fabled finishing touch — there’s little we can recall of Pandya’s international existence.

So, one is entitled to wonder why he was preferred over Stuart Binny when the squad was announced; and why he was picked ahead of Dhawal Kulkarni in this match; and why a greenhorn like him was entrusted the new-ball duties with Umesh Yadav ahead of Jasprit Bumrah on a strip that has the reputation to assist seamers in the first hour. Pandya, in the 44.5 overs that he had bowled in international cricket before Sunday, conceded the impression that at best he was a utility bowler, a partnership-breaker, or a filler to afford the strike bowlers a breather. Moreover, he could bleed runs, prone as he was to experiment with his lengths.

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After the match that India would win by six wickets after New Zealand were bowled out for 190, Dhoni explained the decision. “We had decided to use him as one of the three seamers. He can get movement off the surface and is reasonably quick. So we thought why not him, not that Bumrah can’t bowl initially, but just that Pandya can get some purchase off it,” he said.

Justifying his captains’s logic, he showed what he brings to the table on a good day, when the elements are in sync and when he’s not trying too hard. He can stretch the speedometer’s needle to late 130s. He can bargain movement off the surface, and can hustle batsmen. Also, he can sow the seeds of false assurance in a batsman’s mind.

All comes together

It took him just an over to demonstrate all the supposed attributes that prompted Dhoni to throw him the brand new ball. Agreed that Martin Guptill is enduring a wretched drought, so much so that bowlers would feel a bit of one-upmanship even before the first delivery is bowled at him. It’s so mapped in their brain that you just need to keep him probing outside the off-stump and he will oblige soon enough. Pandya did exactly that. The first ball to him took the outside edge; the second his inside-edge and third whizzed past his outside edge. The fourth, marginally short, Guptill smeared through point. In hindsight, you can say it was a ruse, a case of Pandya softening up Guptill before the kill. Or maybe we are reading too much into what was a muck-as-any loose ball Pandya generously feeds the batsmen with.

The fifth, and the last of his first over in international cricket, took all by surprise, most of all Guptill. It was short of length and briskly angled into him. Guptill pre-empted the ball shaping into him and hence decided to play the ball from inside the line. The ball, though, upon pitching deviated marginally away from him, grazing the willing outside half of his blade. Pandya celebrated as fervently as any debutant would upon logging his first wicket.

Then he nearly nailed Kane Williamson with the next ball, as it spat awkwardly into the batsman from short of length, hitting on the elbow and almost ricocheting on to the stumps. On a wicket that had offered little lateral movement to the seamers, he quickly altered his lengths and made use of the bounce it offered. The movement both he and Umesh Yadav exacted came off the surface than air, and it was seam and not swing.

Pandya, though, slightly missed his smarts against the left-handed Tom Latham, whom he gift-wrapped delicious half-volleys. Even his next two wickets were bargained off commonplace deliveries, one due to spectacular catch by Yadav and then through the ill-advised short selection of the batsman. So his 3 for 31 should neither be fully taken on its face value nor with excessive cynicism, for we know how lean the stock of all-rounders is in the country.

Umesh, discipline — in the same sentence

Like Pandya, Umesh Yadav too is a rare a breed — an out-and-out fast bowler. But for all his rare gift of pace, he has wonderfully wasted it with profligate bowling. Seldom has he ever managed to land the ball as if on a string, though in almost every interview he invariably stresses on the need to infuse precision and accuracy into his bowling.

But on Friday, he showed the rare virtue of discipline. The very stat that he conceded his first boundary off the 28th ball is something of a mini-accomplishment. Generally, a pitch map of his spell resembles a collection of scattered dots, a few good-length balls interspersed with abundant wide and shot balls on either side of the wicket.

His pitch map in the opening spell was a cluster of red dots just outside the off-stump, which he achieved without comprising on his pace quotient. More than the wicket-taking deliveries — of course he dismissed Ross Taylor with a beauty that curled away — those that beat the batsmen’s edges revealed Umesh’s newfound zen. None as illustrative as the dismissal of Williamson. He teased and taunted him with out-swingers, before digging in a short ball, which a frustrated Williamson swiped into the cupped palms of the third man.

Then, again like Pandya, he messed up in the last few overs of the New Zealand innings, bowling often too leg-sidish to Tim Southee with a just the deep fine-leg. In his first four overs, he conceded only nine runs. In his next four, he conceded 22. A couple of instances on the field symbolised his career —- the same Umesh who lunged spectacularly to pouch Corey Anderson at mid-off spilled a routine sitter off Southee. His international sojourn has alternated in such frustrating binaries.

Whether Sunday’s efforts turn their respective careers around has to be seen, though. Umesh has to string together a few such consistent performances to snap at the heels of the regulars when they return. Pandya has to keep influencing the matches to be that elusive all-rounder India has eternally been in pursuit of.

But as the night set in here, fully obscuring the Dhauladhar, Pandya and Umesh retreated to the dressing room in the quiet afterglow of their sparkle. Their opening spells set the tone for the ODI series, or rather prolonged the pervading theme of the Test series — that is Kiwis plighted to play catch-up cricket.

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