“You have to stay there and finish the game. Remaining not out makes a difference“. These were Hardik Pandya’s words to Tilak Varma captured by the stump mic as India closed in on a must-win against West Indies. Tilak, who with scores of 39 and 51 in the previous games, was already proving to be India’s find of 2023, was batting on 44 and with India requiring 12 off 23, the most suited to wrap up proceedings. He had already clubbed 4 fours and a six, and given the way he was batting, Tilak, after instructions from his captain, looked set to wind up the match with second maximum.
But things changed at the drop of a dime. After Alzarri Joseph hurried Tilak with his pace preventing the batter to get under the ball, Hardik took no prisoners and walloped a mighty six himself over long off to win the game for India. Even though Tilak was stranded on 49, the bigger picture was India’s win, but for the next 24 hours, it did not matter. Moments after victory was secured, the entire country turned on Hardik. People were boiling on Twitter for the most outrageous reason – not allowing Tilak to score what would have been his second straight fifty for India.
Memes began to circulate, people retorted to name calling in their pursuit of belittling an Indian captain. And for what… prioritising team above individual milestones? Was the criticism justified? Well, the public has given their verdict: a resounding yes. But if one is to think rationally, Hardik was hard done by. What exactly transpired in those 6 deliveries that forced Pandya to change his mind? We analyse the scenarios.
Hardik gave Tilak an entire over to get the job done
When Rahul Dravid declared India’s innings with Sachin Tendulkar batting on 194 during the famous Multan Test in 2004, The Wall had given The Master Blaster a certain number of overs to complete his double century. But as the clock ticked and Sachin struggled to knock off the remaining six runs in the due course of time, Dravid suddenly wasn’t everyone’s favourite anymore. In a similar vein, when Hardik urged Tilak to knock it out of the park, India still had 23 balls at their disposal.
Yet, Tilak’s pace slowed during the subsequent six deliveries, which warranted a strategy adjustment. The first ball of the over was declared a wide, a short ball marginally outside leg which Tilak went after but couldn’t connect. Alzarri then unleashed a varied arsenal of slower deliveries, yorkers, half-volleys, and length balls, but all Tilak could muster was singles, dots and solitary double. Tilak’s timing had fallen off the radar as he almost chopped one back on. With the glory shot nowhere to be found, Hardik, who had given Tilak the buffer, then waded into Rovman Powell to get India over the line.
The ball was right in Hardik’s slot
Facing a bowler bowling with a purpose and then one who is merely going through the motions is a significant contrast. With two runs to defend off 14, Rovman Powell and his West Indies unit found their thoughts drifting to Lauderhill, Florida already – where the final two chapters of this tour would be written. The inevitability of the game slipping away was apparent to Powell, and that with seven wickets left, even a miracle wasn’t going to be enough. So what was the response from the West Indies captain? He sent down a long hop – a gentle slower one right down Hardik’s striking zone. Pandya’s eyes lit up, and while he could have exercised the option to leave or cautiously defend the ball, the urge to resist that mighty full swing of the bat proved too enticing for the captain to resist.
The mind harked back to a Test match between India and Sri Lanka at Kandy in 2001, where Sourav Ganguly was batting on 98 and India needed four to win. Mohammad Kaif did everything in his power to ensure that his captain, who was battling for form during the time, hit the winning runs and completed his century. But a leg-stump full toss from Dilhara Fernando proved too tempting for Kaif to not put away. No one said a thing. If anything, Ganguly was the happiest.
Hardik is not MS Dhoni
As part of the Hardik bashing movement, an old video of MS Dhoni defending a ball from South Africa’s Beuran Hendricks to allow Virat Kohli to score the winning runs, surfaced. Not to point out in a negative way, but if there were ever any expectations of Hardik to emulate a page out of Dhoni’s playbook of the 2014 World T20, the responsibility lies entirely with those who held such hopes and not Pandya. Hardik isn’t trying to become a replica of Dhoni – he can’t be, won’t be. Pandya’s own distinct captaincy traits will allow him to forge his own path. In fact, in all probability, the current T20I squad is not even Hardik’s preferred team, and make no mistake, this bunch of players won’t necessarily be the one heading back to the West Indies 10 months from now for the World Cup.
Hardik’s emergence as a captain is a fresh chapter. It hasn’t even been two years since he led a team at the highest tier. While the IPL victory with the Gujarat Titans was culminated into a fairytale ending, despite parallels drawn with the illustrious Dhoni, Hardik is far from reaching MSD’s stature. Nostalgia holds its own charm, but in reality, the era of Dhoni has long concluded and with it, the unique essence it brought along. It’s time to move on, please.
Milestones as frivolous as a T20I fifty should be the last thing on a player’s mind
All for one. One for all. That is the spirit which cricket always has and should be played in. In a nation overly fixated on statistics, it is crucial to recognise that the impact of Tilak’s impressive innings remains undiminished, even without a half-century. He came, added 87 with Suryakumar Yadav when India were two down for 34, and did his job. In the two games that India had previously lost, Tilak was clearly their standout batter, and promises even brighter moments in the future. The approach of valuing team accomplishments above personal milestones is one that cricket powerhouses like England and Australia have wholeheartedly embraced and the outcome of this shift is evident in their shared possession of the last three World Cup trophies. For a team that has failed to land an ICC silverware in the last 10 years, it might not be the worst idea to consider adopting this practice.