Captain Hardik Panday was lauded by many for his leadership style.

When the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2022 got underway, there were quite a few question marks dangling over all-rounder Hardik Pandya’s form. He had been dropped from the Indian team following a prolonged run of low scores and fitness issues, which meant he could not bowl. For a while, he managed to hang on to his place in the team as batter as he was doing alright with the willow. But, once his form with the bat slipped, he became a liability on the Indian team as he was not bowling at all. There was further controversy as he decided to skip the Ranji Trophy despite being a contracted player with the BCCI.

Even when the 28-year-old was named captain of the Gujarat Titans (GT), quite a few eyebrows were raised. After all, apart from concerns over his personal form, it was also a fact that Pandya did not have leadership experience. Three weeks into IPL 2022, though, Pandya has answered a lot of those questions in quite an emphatic manner. He has led GT to the top of the points table, with four wins from five matches. 

Pandya, the missing all-rounder, resurfaces

Ahead of IPL 2022, former India head coach Ravi Shastri had claimed that a lot of eyes would be on Pandya since he is an unadulterated match-winner when at the peak of his game. In some good news for India, the all-rounder has given more than glimpses of his capability in the first three weeks of the IPL. There has never been doubt over his potential, but there have been constant question marks over his form and fitness.

Looking at his performances so far, he has been in sublime form with the bat. In five matches, he has notched up 228 runs at an average of 76 and an impressive strike rate of 136.53. Pandya registered back-to-back fifties. While his knock against the Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) was slightly on the slower side, he immediately made amends, striking an unbeaten 87 off 52 balls against Rajasthan Royals. 

Making a mark with the ball

While the Indian selectors will be pleased with Pandya’s batting form heading into the T20 World Cup in Australia later in the year, they would be happier over the way he has bowled in the IPL so far. The all-rounder clearly seems to have worked on his pace bowling and has been able to generate impressive speeds. There has also been a slight change in his action, and the tweak seems to have helped him generate a greater pace. Hopefully, it will also put less strain on his back, which has been quite fragile to the rigours of non-stop cricket.

Although India have tried out Venkatesh Iyer in the all-rounder’s slot in limited-overs matches, and he has done a decent job, with all due respect to him, he lacks the X-factor that Pandya possesses when he is at his best. An illustration was on show during the game against Rajasthan. First, the batter lifted the team out of trouble and scored at a rapid pace without ever looking in any kind of hurry.

His bowling, too, was impressive as he looked his old nippy self. The great aspect here is that he is able to send down his overs in every match. Coming back to the RR match, he also demonstrated his value in the field with a superb direct hit to run out his opposite number Sanju Samson. In a nutshell, Pandya is the perfect T20 package when he is fit and is in form. The selectors will find it difficult to keep him out of the T20 World Cup squad following his performances so far.

A word on Pandya’s leadership. For someone who lacks experience, he has been able to get the best out of his players. Barring the needless exaggerated reaction to a poor piece of fielding from Mohammed Shami, he has done an impressive job. From what has been on display, it seems Pandya is back in business, and that can only spell good news for Indian cricket.

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