Hardik Pandya hadn’t led since his Under-16 days. The 28-year-old has certainly been one of the highly-rated all-rounders going around but, before IPL 2022, leadership trait was something that was not brought up during discussions about the Baroda all-rounder.
Like a bolt from the blue, Hardik Pandya emerged as the most successful captain in a season where the likes of MS Dhoni, Rohit Sharma and Kane Williamson found the going tough. Gujarat Titans won the IPL crown on Sunday to assert Hardik’s success as the skipper in his first stint as captain in the high-pressure T20 tournament.
“More than winning the trophy, the most important thing was the way we played and it was very heartening to see. Under your leadership, the boys gelled very well,” head coach Ashish Nehra told Hardik Pandya as the two main men of the victorious Gujarat Titans team sat down for a chat for the IPL.
As Nehra highlighted, it was the manner in which Gujarat Titans went about their business that stood apart. Newbie teams in the past have struggled before ceasing to exist but Hardik has already started stressing a legacy-creating impact of their victorious run in IPL 2022.
Hardik had headed into the IPL with a lot of questions about his form and fitness. As Hardik was out on the sidelines for close to 6 months after the T20 World Cup due to a persistent back injury, India were trying out alternates for the all-important fast-bowling all-rounder role even as the team management stressed the all-rounder importance.
When Hardik skipped the league stages of Ranji Trophy, questions were asked once again as the selection committee maintained that they were considering players who were plying their trade in the domestic season.
With so much outside noise, Hardik was handed over the responsibility of leading an IPL side for the first time. The chatter did not stop there as pundits wrote off Gujarat Titans as early as February after the IPL 2022 mega auction. GT’s batting did not inspire confidence and concerns over Hardik’s bowling did not help their cause during the pre-season predictions.
Hardik Pandya shone as a leader in IPL 2022 (Courtesy of BCCI/PTI)
Cut to May 20, Hardik is a 5-time IPL champion and only one of the 4 Indians who have lifted the coveted trophy as captain. He became the second-youngest captain after Rohit Sharma in 2013 to win the IPL.
Hardik is not only back in the senior national team set-up (for the upcoming 5-match T20I series against South Africa at home) but he is also being talked up as a contender for India captaincy.
“This (captaincy) was an aspect of his game which nobody had too much information about. The way he has led the team, the way he has got them together, the way he has got them to gel together means he has got leadership qualities.
“When you have leadership qualities, it automatically opens the door for honours at the national level to be able to captain the Indian national team in the near future,” batting great Sunil Gavaskar told Star Sports after Hardik lifted the IPL trophy in front of a packed crowd at his home ground in Ahmedabad.
It’s still early days but Hardik Pandya has made a solid first impression.
Hardik, backed by a terrific backroom support system that included Gary Kirsten, Ashish Nehra and Vikram Solanki, looked calm and composed on the field. His post-match interactions were refreshingly insightful and showcased the mindset with which he led the Titans.
Hardik used his resources wonderfully well. When he said he wanted opposition batters to go after Rashid Khan and that a bit of love and support helped bring the best out of David Miller, he showed the world that he is an able leader.
More importantly, the way Hardik managed himself was a treat to watch. At the start of the season, Hardik shut down his critics by bowling in excess of 135 kph consistently. He had an injury scare following which he cut down on his bowling but kept contributing with the bat for the Titans.
On the night of the big final, Hardik stepped with the ball and delivered with the bat yet again, taking his tally to 487 runs and 8 wickets. Hardik’s reading of the conditions and the game situations in the final only helped his growing reputation as captain.
“Outside noise does not bother me, and if I have to sacrifice and have a worse season and my team still wins, I’ll take that,” Hardik said after clinching glory on Sunday.
Well, Hardik and Gujarat Titans certainly proved their naysayers wrong in a dream campaign.