With MS Dhoni retiring, India’s search for a lead finisher ended with Hardik Pandya. The flamboyant all-rounder has had no replacement and as Virat Kohli & Co begin their T20 World Cup campaign against Pakistan, he is expected to play the lead role. But Jr Pandya hasn’t had a great year. He has been struggling and in the T20 WC, he doesn’t have a confirmed place either in the Playing XI but he nonetheless is relishing the challenge.
“The biggest so far, I will say, because this time I don’t have MS Dhoni. Everything is on my shoulders — I like to think that way because it gives me an added challenge. It is going to be exciting, a cracker of a tournament,” Hardik Pandya told ESPNcricinfo.
With the Indian team management assessing all-rounder Hardik Pandya’s back over the last week, it was decided that he will primarily play as a batsman and the role of a finisher and won’t bowl. It is understood that Hardik Pandya is still not a 100% when it comes to bowling, but his experience when it comes to absorbing pressure and finishing games with the bat cannot be overlooked.
Pandya also threw light on how MS Dhoni was one of the people who helped him during the difficult time when the all-rounder was suspended by the BCCI for comments made on a TV talk show.
“MS was someone who understood me from the start: how I function, what kind of a person I am, what are the things I don’t like, everything. When I was picked for the New Zealand series initially there were no hotel rooms. But then I get a call, saying, “You just come. MS has told us, ‘I don’t sleep on the bed. He will sleep on my bed and I will sleep on the floor.’ He [Dhoni] was the first person who has been always there. He called me around the same time I had the conversation with Akash [Ambani],” Hardik Pandya said.
MS Dhoni will once be with Team India, albeit in a mentor role. He has joined Team India’s practice session in Dubai. Hardik Pandya said Dhoni is like a brother he has supported me throughout.
“He knows what kind of an individual I am. He knows me quite deep. I am very close to him. He is the only person who can make me calm. When all this happened, he knew that I needed support. I just needed a shoulder, which he provided multiple times in my cricketing career. I never saw him as MS Dhoni the greatest. For me, Mahi is my brother. I respect and admire the fact that he was there when I needed him the most,” Hardik Pandya added.
The all-rounder also stated that MS Dhoni is a life coach for him. “In a certain way, yes. We have lovely conversations. As I said, only Mahi can make me understand certain things. Sometimes if I get strong-headed and I go into that zone and I believe some things, I have to call him and say, “Yeh soch rahan hoon, kya chal raha hai, batao.” [This is on my mind. What do you think?] Then he will explain. So, yes, in a lot of ways he is a life coach,” Hardik said.
“Staying with him, obviously, you learn to be mature, you learn to become humble. I have learned a lot by watching him. He never loses his cool,” he added.
India will open its T20 World Cup campaign against Pakistan on October 24 in Dubai. After the upcoming T20 World Cup, Virat Kohli will be stepping down as the side’s captain in the shortest format.