By Rajarshi Gupta: Hardik Pandya is a natural leader. You wouldn’t have said that before the 2022 IPL where he led Gujarat Titans to triumph in their first season. He bowled the tough overs and batted in the tough overs. He bowled with the new ball and batted at No.3 and as captain, he was phenomenal.
One year later, Hardik Pandya was even better as captain. Last season, you could see flashes of frustration when a bowler made a mistake or a fielder erred. This summer, Hardik just smiled and put an arm around a teammate when the going got tough. There were laughs and plenty of jokes but the killer instinct got sharper.
Hardik Pandya, dare one say, is even cooler than the OG Captain Cool. Hardik is cooler than MS Dhoni.
For one, Dhoni, the most decorated cricket captain in the country, is sometimes prone to showing his frustrations on the field. A stare at a fielder, a real death stare is common from Thala. Maybe Hardik will betray more emotions as the years go by. But that’s a topic for the future.
Hardik Pandya was named captain of Gujarat Titans after a glorious run with Mumbai Indians where he won five IPL titles. When GT came along as one of two new IPL teams, Hardik was almost an obvious choice for the franchise. With Ashish Nehra, the coach, Hardik has already formed a fabled partnership.
For many years, it seemed like Hardik Pandya would struggle to fulfil his real potential as a world-class all-rounder. He was smart enough to realise that he wanted to focus on the shorter formats for India and he is now a proven match-winner. With bat? With ball? ODIs? T20Is? No problem, at all. Hardik Pandya is the man for all seasons.
It’s difficult to say what has made Hardik Pandya so assured and a captain in total control. He obviously had the gift and the grit to be a superb leader. He has learnt a lot in the last one year and he will learn a lot more. Hardik is also now India’s T20I captain and he might soon lead the country in one-day cricket.
And by all accounts, Hardik is a likeable leader.
There is a lot of difference between the Hardik Pandya you see today and the Hardik Pandya who emerged on the global scene a few years back. This is an assured leader ready to lead from the front. He is a little animated, he certainly looked it during the IPL this year but that’s because he is enjoying his responsibilities.
So many things stood out about Hardik Pandya’s captaincy. The way he made those decisions with Ashish Nehra as rain kept delaying the final against Chennai Super Kings showed why he is an astute leader. Gone were the jokes – here was a captain ready to make the tough calls for his team.
Hardik Pandya loves MS Dhoni and loves the CSK model of building players and a team. Moreover, he does not look like one of those modern cricketers who are always under pressure to be someone they are not. Hardik Pandya is raw, unadulterared and a pure joy to watch on the field as captain, bowler and batter.
Chennai Super Kings won the IPL, their fifth in a series of epic performances. Gujarat Titans might have been robbed of a potential second title by rain but Hardik Pandya was gracious in defeat and he still managed to smile.
Never has a cooler captain graced the game this way. This is the beginning of the Hardik Pandya era in IPL and in international cricket.