LEEDS, England (Reuters) – For someone as flamboyant off the pitch as on it, it is fitting that Hardik Pandya’s transformation into India’s reliable fifth bowler has been nothing less than spectacular at this year’s Cricket World Cup.
The 25-year-old, known for his flash clothes and love for bling, arrived in England with many wondering if he was good enough for the fifth bowler’s job in his maiden World Cup.
The seam-bowling all-rounder has since effortlessly dispelled any shred of doubt with a string of stellar performances with the ball.
He bowled his full 10 overs against Australia, Afghanistan, England and Bangladesh. India’s opening fixture against South Africa was the only match where the opposition lasted 50 overs and Pandya did not complete his quota.
He now inspires so much confidence in Virat Kohli that the India captain went with only five bowlers in Tuesday’s victory against Bangladesh which secured their place in the semi-finals.
“We experienced that Hardik, when put under pressure has, come back really well in this tournament…” Kohli said of what prompted his “gamble” with the bowling attack.
“He finds a way to contain the runs and get you wickets. He’s really looking forward to do stuff for the team, that’s really helping his cricket.”
Pandya claimed 3-60 on Tuesday and his victims included Bangladesh talisman Shakib Al Hasan, who top-scored for his side with 66, and Liton Das, who he dismissed with a trademark short ball.
The all-rounder has fine-tuned his bowling and appears to have returned wiser from a brief suspension earlier this year for his comments about women on a television show in January.
Kohli suggested that underneath Pandya’s casual exterior lies a cerebral cricketer who draws from his experience as an all-rounder to outwit batsmen.
“When he comes to bowl, he thinks like a batsman,” Kohli said. “He actually wants the ball under pressure because he thinks like a batter, so he can check their body language and know what to bowl and when. He’s bowling really well for us.”
Bowling coach Bharat Arun had earlier explained how much Pandya had evolved to fit the fifth bowler’s role.
“It was a big challenge for him to bowl those 10 overs, and he realised that to be able to bowl those 10 overs ‘I need to develop a certain armoury in my bowling’,” Arun said in Manchester last month.
“And that’s what he’s worked on. He’s worked on his slow balls, his slow bouncers, and he’s also worked on perfecting his bouncers.
“All these put together have given him the confidence to go through those 10 overs.”