Indian cricket's biggest question is when Hardik Pandya will walk out to bat
It seems like the team management tosses a coin, and if it lands on the all-rounder’s head, he goes out to bat.
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Friend: Knock, knock!
Hardik Pandya: Who's there?
F: Oye, wanna come for dinner?
HP: The team management served me at 4.30pm.
Hardik Pandya walks in to bat. But when? Does Hardik Pandya know? Does anybody know? Is there a situation-signal that goes off when it's Hardik Pandya time? Is Hardik Pandya always padded up?
It may seem surprising to some, but with Hardik Pandya, the team management (that's pretty much Ravi Shastri and Virat Kohli, isn't it?) have turned out to be rather flexible - it may even appear they toss a coin, and if it lands on Pandya's head, he goes out to bat.
Then again, it may not be that surprising. After the openers and Virat Kohli, the batting depth isn't that deep. There's either Dinesh Karthik/Manish Pandey/KL Rahul at four, followed by Kedar Jadhav, MS Dhoni and yeah, that man, Pandya.
After that, it's the bowlers who've been known to bat a bit, often more in memory than any recent scorecard. Not to disregard Bhuvneshwar Kumar's hits the other day, but still very early days, isn't it?
As for the argument to send in MS Dhoni early at five, it stands, as does the argument against sending him in at five - at least in these largely pointless bilateral matches. Face it, there isn't anything for Dhoni to learn as such at any position (or for that matter, the team management to learn about him) - he could be a floater, at least for now.
Hardik Pandya made his ODI debut barely a year ago in October 2016.
That Dhoni takes more deliveries to warm up, before he warms up for the kill, could well be a reason to send him in early, but then it comes at the cost of the Pandya experiment.
An experiment that is all about doing some pretty intense brain mapping on Pandya, his abilities, capabilities, temperament, hitting prowess, mindset, defensive mindset, attacking mindset (the Full Monty of Shastri call-for-action words and phrases, really).
Hardik Pandya made his ODI debut barely a year ago in October 2016. So far, he's clocked 28 games with 18 innings. He did not bat in his first game but walked out at eight in his next, he scored 36 off 32 deliveries. India though, lost that match by six runs.
In his third innings, Pandya was promoted to seven. After three outings at that position, he was sent in at five against Pakistan in the Champions Trophy - he had some fun, 20 off six deliveries, with those three sixes.
The Pandya experiment had begun.
Next innings at six, then seven, that semi-final against Pakistan, where he played a lone hand, after which the team was on its last legs. Naturally, he made it up to four in his next innings. Scored only four, so he made it to seven after that. What followed are these positions - seven, four, seven, seven, four, four, seven, five.
A little over two years older than Pandya is England's Ben Stokes. He's played a little over twice as many games as Pandya, and has an unveiled threat factor to him, on and off the field. Three ODI centuries - two of which have been scored in his last six innings. His first was 16 innings back. All three tons have come batting at five.
While the bulk of Stokes' innings have been at either the number five or six position, he's occasionally batted as low as seven and even eight, and sometimes even as high as the coveted No. 3 slot. All that was in the early days of his career, when England were figuring out a slot for him. In Stokes' last 35 innings, England has asked him to throw his punches at either five or six.
This could well be the case with Pandya. The top three slots are taken. The experiments for No. 4 are on in earnest. Dhoni and Jadhav are seasoned enough to adapt to various positions.
The question is what position will pick Pandya? Shastri & Co could opt for a bit of Harry Potter magic - ask the sorting hat to pick Pandya's position.
Till then though it's unlikely we'll know when Pandya bats. The World Cup is in 2019. The way the experiments are going, don't be too surprised to see Pandya walk in at…
In these days of sameness in Indian cricket's long, winding home season, this is one sure shot of entertainment. The cheers when Pandya walks out are no less than those usually reserved for MS Dhoni. There's a churn happening in Indian cricket, everyone can feel it, they just don't know when it will hit them.
He's not called HH Pandya* for nothing.
(Aside: Imagine if and when Hardik's brother, Krunal walks out to bat for India? In T20s, he strikes at 152 to Hardik's 127)
*Hardik Himanshu Pandya