IPL 2022 – ‘Hardik Pandya with bat and ball sounds better than just a batter’

“You don’t have to be a captain to lead.”

That’s the view of Hardik Pandya, who will lead the Ahmedabad franchise at IPL 2022. Pandya has captained only once at the senior level – in a tour game against Australia in 2017 – but he isn’t bothered about the lack of experience as he has always been “mentally ready”.

“I’ve always believed that you lead in a lot of different ways,” Pandya said in a media interaction on Tuesday. “In my team, yes, I will be the captain but everyone else will be also a leader in their own role. Whatever little opportunities or roles I’ve been given [in the past], I’ve always tried to embrace them and learn something new out of them. And now when I have the opportunity, I’ll try to make sure that I use that experience I’ve got from all these little, little roles in my captaincy.

But has he done any preparation for the role?

“I don’t think there is a manual to learn how to become a captain,” Pandya said. “But I’ve always been a guy who likes to take up responsibilities in whichever games I have played. I’ll make sure that all the boys who are with me, we play as one [unit]. And that they get enough from me, that is what I’ve learned over the years. I’ll make sure I give a lot of time to the players, my doors will be always open for them. So no preparation as such but I’m looking forward to it and mentally I have always been ready.”

During his India and IPL career, Pandya has played under three highly successful captains in MS Dhoni, Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma. When asked what one trait from each of them he would like to have as captain, Pandya said: “From Virat, I would pick his aggression, his passion and his energy, which is tremendous. With Mahi [Dhoni] bhai, the composure, the calmness. In every situation he is the same. From Rohit, I will pick that he lets the players decide what they want to do.”

Pandya’s motto as captain, though, is to be there for his players, especially those who are not doing well.

“When someone is on a high, when they are doing well, when things are falling in place, generally they don’t need anyone. When someone is having a bad day, that’s when they need you. So as an individual, or as a captain as well, when someone is doing good, I will never bother them. I will let them have their space. But when someone is feeling down, whatever they need from me, I will be always available. That is the motto which I believe in and I’ll try to follow that. And anyone who needs my help, anyone who needs me, I’ll be always there for them.”

“When someone is feeling down, whatever they need from me, I will be always available. That is the motto which I believe in and I’ll try to follow that”

Pandya made his IPL debut in 2015 and until now, he has played only for one franchise, Mumbai Indians. During the seven seasons he played for them, he was part of the title-winning side on four occasions. Talking about the ideal template for a successful T20 team, Pandya said it’s all about winning the small battles.

“No matter how much fireworks you have, it’s all about the situation, it’s all about picking the right moments,” Pandya said. “There are small, small moments which you have to win in a T20 game, and for us, that will be more important. We will be focused on the small, small battles – it might be winning the 14th over, or it might be doing well in the 16th over, for example. Whichever team plays the best [in those] situations will win. So that will be my template for our team.”

‘I always want to play as an allrounder’

In the last couple of years, Pandya hasn’t bowled much because of his back injury. When asked where his bowling is at the moment, he gave a cryptic answer: “It’s a surprise for everyone.”

He did say, though, that the Indian team management is aware of his fitness status. “It has been communicated to everyone, so they know where I am.”

Of late, there have been many occasions, both for India as well as in the IPL, when Pandya played purely as a batter. And that has been “challenging” for him. However, Pandya is keen to be back as an allrounder.

“I’ve always been someone who has given three areas – fielding, batting and bowling, but at that point of time when I decided that I will [only] bat for some time was because I wanted to spend some time on the ground. It has been challenging yes, but I think we all love challenges and I am one of those who like to face them and fight them out.

“Healthy criticism is good but generally, criticism does not bother me. I know what I’m doing, I know how I prepare, I know how much hard yards I put. For me, the results do matter but I don’t work hard for the results, I work hard for the processes and the results look after themselves once you have put in genuine hard work, which I’m doing right now.

“I’ve realised one thing that I as an allrounder give a lot of different options to the team. For me as an individual, it has always been that I want to play as an allrounder, and I’ll always try to do that. If something does go wrong, my batting is always there. And you know, Hardik Pandya with bat and ball combined sounds better than just a batter.”

With bat, Pandya’s role in T20s has been mainly that of a finisher, with him coming in mostly at No. 5 or below. But will that change now given he is the captain?

“I have always been a cricketer who has played the situation and whatever the team requires at that point of time. If my team needs certain roles from me, as a group we will decide that when the matches come, but I have not made any plans regarding that yet. If the situation demands me to go in early, I will go in early. If the situation doesn’t demand that, I will stay back and make sure that I look after back end.”

Hemant Brar is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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