Earlier this year, someone asked Hardik Pandya if he could play the same role as MS Dhoni did in ODIs. Pandya replied that he wouldn’t mind playing a similar role to what Dhoni used to play. But the comparison with Dhoni made things a bit tricky for him, and he admitted that he needed to grow and change.
This comparison is not easy to handle because Pandya has to do many different things in different situations. Sometimes he needs to stay in and build an innings, sometimes he needs to score runs quickly, and other times he has to hit big shots. In some innings, he has to do all of these things. The fact that India has not found someone to replace Dhoni shows how hard it is to do all the things he did for over a decade. But in his recent innings of 87 runs from 90 balls against Pakistan, Pandya showed that he’s evolving into the Dhoni role.
When Pandya came to bat, India was in trouble at 66/4, with a lot of overs left to play. Pandya knew he had to stay at the crease for as long as possible. He realized that the pitch was tricky, and scoring runs was not easy. So, he used clever shots like nudges and paddle-sweeps against the spinners. When the fast bowlers were bowling, he played with smart angles to reduce the risk of getting out. The Pakistani captain, Babar Azam, tried to tempt him into hitting big shots, but Pandya didn’t fall for it. He knew there were other goals to achieve first. He waited until the 72nd ball of his innings to hit his first six. He mostly relied on singles and twos to keep the scoreboard moving.
Besides helping his partner, Ishan Kishan, and building a crucial partnership, Pandya also prepared for a big finish, just like Dhoni used to do. He planned to accelerate the scoring in the last four overs when there were fewer fielders outside the circle. Even after Kishan got out, Pandya stuck to his plan. He unleashed his power in the 40th over, hitting three boundaries in a row.
This innings showed that Pandya can be the glue that holds the middle-order together, much like Yuvraj Singh did in the 2011 World Cup. Pandya can play that role well. India’s batting lineup is not fully settled, and they often struggle against strong pace bowling attacks. However, Pandya enjoys facing fast bowlers. Against teams like Pakistan, Australia, and England, which have excellent pace bowlers, Pandya has impressive batting averages. He can bat at different positions depending on the situation, just like Yuvraj did. If India loses early wickets, Pandya can be the anchor who builds the innings. And like Dhoni, he has the ability to finish the game.
Pandya, like Dhoni, didn’t start out as a natural fit for this role. He was known as a power-hitter in the lower order. Dhoni, too, was initially seen as a big-hitting lower-order batsman. But over time, both players showed that they had more to their batting than just hitting big sixes. They learned to adapt and play according to the situation, making them two of the game’s greatest finishers.