They say good things come in threes. India’s last three entrants in Tests proved just that. Three players who are more renowned for their white-ball skills, but find themselves playing key roles in England as India chase the improbable in England.
Hardik Pandya. #289. He was the poor man’s allrounder, but one India pinned way too may hopes on. He could bowl, he could bat and field. But he also had a tacky technique with bat, limited armoury with ball and was a tad too eccentric to be successful. But like with most exciting talents, he came with the asterisk hovering just above his head – Are India banking on the wrong person?
He is to trolls what fire is to moths. When he posted his new hairstyle earlier this year, they moved in to mock him. It also happened in July and November last year. When he posted a picture of himself on the streets of Nottingham only a couple of days ago, trolls moved in to bash him yet again. Even his teammates don’t spare him. KL Rahul termed him the attention-seeking diva, Kohli had revealed how Pandya has numerous English songs on his I-Pod, but doesn’t really know any of them.
But Pandya is exactly the type of player who won’t mind all this. He will still come up with funky hairdos, and talk like he was a Bajan all along. He will still fall over during an overzealous appeal, and throw himself around to stop a single during a meaningless phase of play. He will still bat and bowl his heart out, almost consciously forgetting his own limitations.
On Sunday, he forgot he was India’s fifth bowler, and blew England’s middle and lower order away with career-best figures of five-for 28 in just six overs.
And it’s disbelief that usually accompanies anything impressive Pandya does in Tests. A fifty on debut, a hundred in his third Test, 93 against Philander, Morkel, Rabada and Co., some gritty innings so far in England and now, a first fifer, to leave England reeling.
And this spell too largely bordered the stuff people thought Pandya is incapable of. Joe Root got the incutter from a wide angle, Jonny Bairstow got the outswinger that moved from middle, Chris Woakes was surprised by the bouncer, Adil Rashid was lured into the drive by an away swinger and finally Stuart Broad was trapped plumb by on that swung back in.
And as he celebrated his most sucessful bolwing figures ever, it was Ishant Sharma who taught him how to celebrate. Pandya eventually put the right hand up and showed the ball to all parts of Trent Bridge, but it said a lot about the man. There may be tons of trolls and criticism around him, but Hardik Pandya stays in his own world, and as long as he keeps performing well, the rest of us will only just live in it.
Jasprit Bumrah. #290. Wiry. Nippy. Awkward action. All sorts of varieties. In cricket’s classical format, Bumrah stands out. He suddenly found himself thrust into the Test team in South Africa, forming a three-pronged pace attack. Heavy burden on his shoulders and weightier expectations to fill in, as a fast bowler in South Africa.
But Bumrah is used to expectations. And he’s used to playing under extreme pressure. That’s what has made him the success story that he became at Mumbai Indians. That’s what made him the world’s best death bowler. And that’s what has now made him a complete bowler.
For a bowler with myriad variations, it wasn’t a surprise that Bumrah adapted himself to cricket’s longest format. He put in the hours on the field and turned himself into a trustworthy fielder and catcher. His hours at the gym ensured stronger shoulders and less fatigue. And hours of practice ensured his consistency did not ditch him easily.
It was no surprise then that he made it straight back to the team despite only just coming off his injury. His hand was plastered still, but his impact, he showed, was still very much present.
The right-hander had been guilty of bowling short in the first session, when England ran away to a frenatic start. But in the second, he watched and learnt from Ishant Sharma. His average length got fuller, and he found that the batsman was troubled more. He was finally rewarded with the wicket of Keaton Jennings soon after Ishant had given India their first.
But that was not all. There was still time for Bumrah, the LoI expert. With Jos Buttler hitting every bowler in sight, Kohli tossed Bumrah the ball. He kept Buttler quiet by giving away just one run in his first over. In his second, his death bowling skills came to the fore. A bouncer bang on target had Buttler top edging, but escaping. Then a slower length ball did the batsman in – a skier that was gobbled up at long-on.
For Indian cricket’s master adapter, perhaps only one thing is left – get better at batting.
Rishabh Pant. #291. Aggressive. Angry. Young. Zestful. Fearless. Even before Rishabh Pant had finished one full day as an Indian Test cricketer, he had the world talking about him. A six off only his second ball showed that he was made of something else, and as people picked up their jaws from floors, he showed he had the temperament and technique to counter Anderson and Broad with the new ball. Soon after, Sanjay Bangar said the six had cast his thoughts back to Vinod Kambli, who opened his scoring in FC cricket with a similar shot. Not one day old, and already with the world’s eyes cast on him.
Day two would present a different challenge. He had to make sure he would commit no blunders behind the stumps. But India’s latest debutant counters challenges in a whole different way. He would not only match up to them, but go one better.
Pant plucked out five catches in his first innings as India Test ‘keeper, and generally impressed with how he handled the pacers. His first two catches, off Cook and Jennings, were straightforward, but then the level upped. The next one was thanks to a dive down the leg side, then another off a bouncer and finally a dive in front of the slip fielder to take his fifth. In two days, Pant had showed that the two most important aspects of his potential India career appear sound, and for a team that has so far struggled in England, it will come as a massive sigh of relief.
He’s already started to impress the Indian team. “He is a horse for the long race. He will do well and he is not afraid of anything,” said Pandya at the end of the day.
Like Pandya says, Pant does look like one without fear. And more importantly for India, someone for the long race.
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