Hardik Pandya encountered a tough situation when he came out to bat in the fifth and final ODI against New Zealand in Wellington. India had recovered after a disastrous start of 18/4 thanks to 90 from Ambati Rayudu and partnerships of 98 with Vijay Shankar (45) and 74 with Kedar Jadhav (34). The quick dismissal of Rayudu and Jadhav threatened to stall India’s charge in the death overs and at 205/7 after 46 overs, India were staring at a below par score. Enter Pandya and he change the complexion of the game in a way he knew best. Counterattack. The right-hander launched three consecutive sixes off legspinner Todd Astle, muscled a pull shot off Trent Boult to fine leg with one leg off the ground ala Kapil Dev. The carnage continued when he launched James Neesham for two fours and a six. It took a fine catch from Boult to dismiss Pandya for 45 off 22 balls.
India had scored 47 in 3.5 overs to finish on 252 all out on what was described as a ‘difficult wicket’ by Rohit Sharma. Boosted by the performance with the bat, Pandya got the big wicket of Ross Taylor for 1 and put the result beyond New Zealand’s reach when he dismissed Mitchell Santner for 22. His blazing 45 proved to be the difference in the end of the day as India won the match by 35 runs to seal their best-ever scoreline in any format in New Zealand.
In the previous two games, Pandya had displayed his mental strength following his comeback. First, he took a fine diving catch at midwicket to send Kane Williamson back and break a solid stand with Ross Taylor. His aggressive spell in Mount Maunganui at the death when he got the wickets of Henry Nicholls and Santner drew praise from Taylor, who said, “Hardik brings in a very nice balance to the Indian side. He came in and bowled well, used the change-ups and bumper very well, with the wind as well. We wanted to negate the spinners as much as possible. I thought we were able to do that, but Hardik came in and got some vital wickets and a good catch as well,” Taylor said.
In the Hamilton drubbing, Pandya showed intent by hammering three fours off Boult who had already ripped through the Indian batting but was undone by a good short ball.
The Wellington knock is similar to the way the all-rounder changed the complexion of the game during the Chennai ODI against Australia in 2017. Pandya came to the crease with India in deep trouble at 90/5. Pandya, along with MS Dhoni, got their eye in and kept the scoreboard ticking. After building a solid base, Pandya decided to explode and he chose his moment. He blasted a four and three sixes off legspinner Adam Zampa. Following the onslaught, Pandya hit a boundary every over as India smashed 50 runs in four overs.
Initially, his knock of 83, studded with five fours and five sixes and his partnership of 118 with MS Dhoni, who blasted 79 helped India turn the match around in dramatic style to clinch a crucial win. Pandya’s all-round exploits helped India thrash Australia 4-1 in what still remains his best show. The Wellington ODI is a redemption for Pandya, who was facing an uncertain future after he was called back home from the Australia series following his ‘outrageous’ comments on the show Koffee With Karan.
Pandya was suspended but it was revoked. The all-rounder showed his value in Wellington and India’s balance and depth is enriched. It is now upto the all-rounder to capitalise on this revival and not get into any more controversies off the field.