Since he made a comeback to competitive cricket post a self-imposed rehab to get back his bowling fitness, he has led a new team (Gujarat Titans) to an IPL title and contributed with some crucial all-round performances for India.
In fact, two of his most significance shows this year has been against arch-rivals Pakistan where he has excelled in both departments of the game.
“There was a time when I didn’t know what was next for Hardik. So I had to get very involved in my thought process and then questioned myself “What do you want from life?” Pandya referred to himself in third person as he answered a question from PTI in the mixed zone.
So what has been the biggest takeaway for him during the time he was out of action?
“I have got the fear of failure out and I don’t bother about what’s going to happen and what the result is going to be, what are people going to talk but I do respect people’s opinion,” he said.
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If one has closely watched Pandya in 2018-19 and now in 2022, there is a stark difference in attitude. His life has changed completely in the interim. He became a father and also lost his father, who was more like his friend.
Perhaps, it has made him more approachable and a bit informal. He asked the scribes if they would mind him sitting on the floor although the norm of mixed zone is to stand in a designated area.
Then when ICC representatives wanted him to hurry up, he replied in his booming baritone voice: “Aarrey inke 4 questions hai. Abhi sirf ak huwa hai baki 3 puchne toh doh (let the press ask their questions).”
When asked if he likes the current version of himself, Hardik smiled.
“Yes, I can say that. I was telling Rahul sir as well that 10 months back, when I was just entering the ground, I was very happy, smiling and excited. Rahul sir must have thought I was over excited for the game.
“I just told him, this is what I wanted to do till I play the sport. Enjoy, the sport and contribute as much as possible and at certain level of standard that I expect myself to play at.”
For him, the last seven months have been the best in his life.
“As you said about last six to seven months but I will count the time away from the game as well where I was preparing was one of the best moments of my life. It taught me a lot of things and got me on a way like I would have never imagined.”
“And that’s when I realized that it is time for you to be what you want to be – playing at the highest level, being able to contribute in every game, no matter what the result would be but being there, giving an opportunity to yourself to contribute as much as possible,” he explained.
For Pandya, he wants to count his blessings looking at where he was and where he has now reached.
“I don’t think I would like to change anything in my life and this would be the best six months. I might have better days but the journey which has happened and from where I have come and where I have reached, very grateful to my family and also the people who helped me.”
Rather score impactful 40 in high-stakes game
For Pandya, the quantum of runs doesn’t matter as much as the impact his scores bring.
“For me, these (vs Pakistan) are the games that make heroes. I don’t want to perform in a dead rubber where the team is already cruising and I come in and smash 80 runs. I like to score those 40s and 50’s where my team needs me more. May be a 40-ball 40 but that’s fine,” he explained.
India won a humdinger of the last ball of the match but had the result gone the other way, the Baroda man would still be happy.
“Even when there was three balls left, I told the boys, even if we lose it, it’s okay. I am just proud in the manner we have fought in this game. We have been a team that has worked hard individually and collectively.
“Even if we would have lost the game, I would have had a smile on my face and tell myself, “You know what, they were good on that day but we tried everything.”
Down the line, Pandya has “accepted the fact” that the sport will bring ups and downs.
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Taking the game deep was key
To Pandya, it never occurred that the chance of winning the match had gone abegging when they were reduced to 31 for 4.
“Partnership needed to be built and give myself and Virat the opportunity to take the game deep, we were 31/4 and we didn’t have much options to play the big shots.”
The other reason being an indiscreet shot selection at the onset would have spelt doom and hence they didn’t take any risk.
“If you don’t try and stick around and instead play big shot to get out, you would never know what were the possibilities if you had stuck around and can play risk free cricket and take the game deep.
“Our mind was clear. So when we needed 50 odd in 3 overs, not for once did we think that the target isn’t achievable. We had the belief.”