“Nah, Hardik Pandya who can bat and bowl sounds a lot better, than just the batter,” that was the Gujarat Titans skipper before the start of IPL 2022, when he scripted a redemption arc for the ages, fighting off back trouble and poor form to lead his team to the title.
If one were to visit the Titans camp now, echoes of the same sentiment would probably be heard. Their charismatic leader has now gone four games without bowling and he has been missed.
Hardik has shown in the past that he is worth a place in the side on the strength of his batting alone. But when he can complement his batting by bending his back to bowl the effort ball or swing the new cherry, he finds a different gear.
He did bowl in the nets on Thursday but the team will wait to see how he feels on the morning of the Qualifier 2.
MISSING LINK IN BOWLING POWERPLAY
It was GT’s Assistant coach Ashish Kapoor who broke the news on May 12, after the Mumbai Indians tie. “We had to change our plans a little bit because, just before the start, Hardik pulled his back. It was a bit stiff and he couldn’t bowl,” he said. Mohit Sharma, who was bowling tightly in the middle overs with his mix-ups had to partner Mohammed Shami with the new ball.
In the next match against Sunrisers Hyderabad, GT brought back left-armer Yash Dayal to partner Shami. After the match Mithun Manhas, GT’s other Assistant coach said, Hardik was being given ‘extra time to rest’ his niggle.
But Hardik could not turn his arm over in the all-important first qualifier against Chennai Super Kings on Tuesday. That’s when GT nominated Darshan Nalkande to join forces with Shami.
The absence of Hardik’s powerplay overs have taken some of the edge off GT’s bowling attack, which has otherwise been the best in the competition. Their Powerplay economy rises from 7.81 to 8.66, average runs per wicket go up by 12.6 and strike rate increases from 20.2 to 27.
Even Shami, the best powerplay bowler in the league – 39 overs, 15 wickets, economy 6.87 – delivers peak performance with Hardik bowling from the other end (ER 6.28, Avg 15.7) than without him (ER 7.92, Avg 22.2).
With Shami leading from the front and spin-twins Rashid Khan and Noor Ahmed putting on the squeeze in the middle overs, GT are still a difficult bowling attack to face. But Hardik’s absence makes GT, effectively a five-man bowling attack, with Rahul Tewatia being used sparingly and Shivam Mavi continuing to miss out.
With the bat too, Hardik has been unable to create the same impact as last year. He has tried to take more responsibility by batting in the middle order, a shift from his power-hitting role, coming in at No 6 for Mumbai Indians. The Baroda batter has also promoted himself to No 3 at times, over Sai Sudharsan but that move hasn’t produced the desired results.
Still, Hardik has shown through his career that adversity tends to bring the best out of him. GT will hope that it does that this time as well.