AHMEDABAD: Soon after Shubman Gill hit the winning six off Obed McCoy to seal the IPL-2022 title for the Gujarat Titans, Hardik Pandya was locked in a long embrace with wife Natasa Stankovic, who was visibly emotional. The Titans’ triumph was, after all, the culmination of a roller-coaster journey for the India allrounder.
Following an ordinary show in the T20 World Cup in the UAE in October-November he scored just 69 runs in five matches @34.50 and bowled just four wicketless overs for 40 runs Hardik was dropped from the Indian team. Subsequently, the 28-year-old was released by Mumbai Indians too. Soon, though, Hardik had some good news coming his way as New franchise Gujarat Titans made him their captain.
And then, IPL 2022 gave Hardik everything he would’ve wished for. He’s now in the rare group of players who have been a part of five IPL title wins. He’s led the Gujarat Titans, his home state IPL team, to the crown in their debut season with a stellar all-round show: 487 runs in 15 games @ 44.27, with four fifties while batting at the pivotal No. 4 spot. He also took eight wickets @ 27.75 (economy rate just 7.27). And he’s walked back into Team India.
“Obviously, she (Natasa) is someone who’s very emotional and she gets happy when she sees me doing well. She has seen me go through a lot and she has seen me putting in those hard yards.” That’s something I don’t speak about, but she kind of knows how hard I have worked behind the scenes,” Hardik said, before adding: “My family has always been my strong pillar.”
‘WIN THE WORLD CUP, NO MATTER WHAT’
Having almost given up on Test cricket, the rigours of which his body probably can’t stand now, the star allrounder has set his sights on winning a World Cup for India.
Soon after he produced a power-packed, match-winning show in the final against Rajasthan Royals, Pandya again spoke about how a World Cup win, missing from the 28-year-old’s resume so far, is now on his bucket list.
“Absolutely, to win the World Cup for India no matter what happens (is my next goal). I am going to give it everything I have. I have always been that kind of guy to put the team first.
“For me the goal will be simple: to make sure my team gets the World Cup. Playing for India has always been a dream come true, no matter how many games I have played. It has always been a pleasure for me to represent the country.” And the kind of love and support I’ve got, it’s only from the Indian team point of view,” Hardik said.
With two World Cups scheduled this year and next (the T20 World Cup in Australia in October-November and the 50-over WC in India in the winter of 2023), the Baroda man will have two shots at his dream if he can stay fit .
Coming back to this IPL, a key part of the Pandya-Ashish Nehra (Titans’ coach) masterplan’ to bag the trophy was to ensure a quality bowling side. Rashid Khan (19 wickets in 16 games @ 22. 15, ER 6. 59) conceded a mere 33 runs in eight overs in the playoffs.
Mohammed Shami (20 wickets in 16 matches @ 24. 40, ER 8. 00) was another stellar performer. Lockie Ferguson bowled with extreme pace. Alzarri Joseph, left-arm seamer Yash Dayal and left-arm spinner R Sai Kishore were all bankable.
“Both of us go on the bowling side a bit more because I have always believed, despite many saying that T20 is a batter’s game, hamesha bowlers match jitate hain (it’s the bowlers who win you matches). If batters don’t get you a par score, then if you have a top-gun bowling, which we had, then you can pull things back.
In matches where teams have conceded 190 runs, we have made sure that we concede 10 runs less. In a broader picture, those 10 runs play a significant role because you end up winning or losing due to those runs,” Pandya said.
CAPTAINCY WORKS WONDERS
It’s clear that the challenge of captaincy got the best out of Hardik in this IPL. “Throughout the season, I’ve enjoyed responsibility. It gets the best out of me. And I’ve always been someone who wants to lead from the front. I can set an example and make sure that if I want my team to function in a certain way, I am the flag bearer of that idea.
“This title is going to be special because we talked about creating a legacy. The coming generations will talk about it. Everyone will remember this was the team which started this journey. To win the championship in the first year is very, very special, Pandya said.
In Pics, IPL 2022 Final: Pandya stars as Gujarat win IPL title
Hardik Pandya starred with bat and ball as Gujarat Titans clinched the IPL title in their debut season with a seven-wicket victory over Rajasthan Royals in front of a record crowd of 104,859 in Ahmedabad on Sunday. (BCCI/IPL/PTI Photo)