AHMEDABAD: All-rounder Hardik Pandya is being tipped as a future India captain after leading an unfancied debut team to victory in the world’s most valuable cricket tournament.
Pandya’s Gujarat Titans thrashed Rajasthan Royals by seven wickets in the Indian Premier League final on Sunday, with the skipper taking three wickets and scoring 34 runs in front of nearly 105,000 fans in the world’s biggest cricket stadium.
It was the culmination of an extraordinary season that began with pundits lashing the side’s purchases in the player auction, questioning Pandya’s appointment as captain and predicting a dire outcome for the expansion franchise’s first season.
But the 28-year-old – a flamboyant cricketer who loves his tattoos and expensive watches, and was once suspended for sexist comments on a TV show – has proved a revelation in his first leadership role.
Commentators have lauded the precision of his decision-making and field-setting in the Twenty20 format.
In the wake of the Titans’ triumph at their home ground in Ahmedabad, former India captain Sunil Gavaskar said Pandya would be a worthy choice to follow in his footsteps.
“When you have leadership qualities, it automatically opens the door for honours at the national level to be able to captain the Indian national team in the near future,” the batting great said.
“The way he has led the team, the way he has got them together, the way he has got them to gel together means he has got leadership qualities,” he told Star Sports.
“Not just my estimation, but everybody’s estimation. This was an aspect of his game which nobody had too much information about.”
The national side are currently led in all formats by Rohit Sharma, who was appointed earlier this year after Virat Kohli’s ODI sacking, but at 35 he is unlikely to be a long-term captain and is being rested for a home series against South Africa in June.
Rohit’s five-time IPL champions Mumbai Indians had a disastrous season, finishing bottom of table.
‘Dream come true’
A hard-hitting middle-order batsman and a fast bowler, Pandya has played 11 Tests, 63 one-day internationals and 54 Twenty20 matches for India.
A back injury kept him out after the T20 World Cup last year but he proved his fitness with 487 runs and eight wickets in 15 IPL matches to earn a recall for the five-match Twenty20 series against South Africa beginning on June 9.
He could be given his first taste of national leadership in two T20s in Ireland later in June, according to Indian media reports. Pandya said he had “always enjoyed responsibility” and “it kind of gets the best out of me”.
His next goal, he told reporters after the IPL victory, was “absolutely to win the World Cup for India no matter what happens.
“Playing for India has always been a dream come true, no matter how many times and how many games I have played. And the kind of love and support I’ve got it’s only from the Indian team point of view.”
India, then led by Kohli, failed to make the semi-finals of last year’s T20 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates but will have another shot at the title when Australia host the next edition later this year.
Former New Zealand captain Daniel Vettori feels captaincy does not burden Pandya as all-rounders are used to donning different hats. “I think the thing we forget about all-rounders is they have so much responsibility on them anyway,” he told ESPNcricinfo.
Pandya was “very authentic”, he added. “He feels comfortable with leadership, with responsibility.”