SOUTHAMPTON – Flamboyant all-rounder Hardik Pandya has been tipped as India's potential “X-factor” at the World Cup with his ability to change games single-handedly with both bat and ball.
An attacking middle-order batsman, medium-fast bowler and quick in the field, the 25-year-old is preparing for his World Cup bow against South Africa after an impressive campaign in the Indian Premier League.
Pandya, who cuts a striking figure with his tattoos, mohawk haircut and earrings, was suspended earlier this year over sexist remarks on a TV chat show.
But after apologising and missing several internationals he returned to the national team and caught the eye in the IPL for Mumbai Indians, who won a fourth title.
Singled out by Rahul Dravid as having the “X-factor” just a year after his debut, Pandya, who first played for India in 2016, has won praise from a clutch of former cricketers.
“Hardik's form in the IPL has been outstanding and he can be a game-changer for India,” former India captain Sunil Gavaskar told AFP. ”He is very, very impressive.”
“There is no one even close to Hardik Pandya's talent with both bat and ball,” former India opener Virender Sehwag told cricketnext website.
Former West Indies captain Clive Lloyd, who won the World Cup twice, predicted that all-rounders would play a crucial role at the tournament in England and Wales.
“From Afghanistan to England, or from India to West Indies, every team is blessed with top-class all-rounders - that's why I believe it will be an all-rounders' World Cup.”
Pandya's impressive limited-overs performances earned him a first Test cap in 2017 and he justified his selection with a century and fifty in the three-match series in Sri Lanka that India won 3-0.
He has been compared with Kapil Dev, who was one of the top players in a golden era for all-rounders also including Pakistan's Imran Khan, Richard Hadlee of New Zealand and England's Ian Botham.
But Dev has cautioned the media and fans not to burden the young talent with the pressure of expectations.
“He is an upcoming player.... Please do not put pressure on him,” he said. “He is a young talent -- let him play his cricket with his own free mind.”
Former Australia bowler Andy Bichel said Pandya and Ravindra Jadeja will hold the aces for India in the middle overs in seaming English conditions.
“Jadeja and Hardik Pandya have to perform if India are going to do a job,” said Bichel, who was part of Australia's World Cup-winning team in 2003.
“Because there are going to be those middle overs where the games will be won or lost,” the cricketer-turned-analyst added.
Agence France-Presse (AFP)