Since making a comeback to competitive cricket after a self-imposed rehabilitation to regain his bowling fitness, he has led a new team (Gujarat Titans) to an IPL title and contributed with some crucial all-round performances for India .
In fact, two of his most important performances this year were against arch-rivals Pakistan, where he excelled in both departments of the game.
“There was a time when I didn’t know what was next for Hardik. So I had to get very involved in my thought process and then asked myself, ‘What do you want from life?’ Pandya referred to himself in third person while answering a question from PTI in the mixed zone.
So what was the biggest takeaway for him during his time out of action?
“I got rid of the fear of failure and I don’t care what will happen and what the result will be, what people will say but I respect people’s opinion,” he said.
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If one watched Pandya closely in 2018-19 and now in 2022, there is a big difference in attitude. Meanwhile, his life has completely changed. He became a father and also lost his father, who was more like his friend.
Maybe that made him more approachable and a bit informal. He asked the scribes if they would mind him sitting on the floor, although the norm of mixed zone is to stand in a designated area.
When ICC representatives then wanted to shake him up, he replied in his booming baritone voice: “Aarrey inke 4 question hai. Abhi sirf ak huwa hai baki 3 puchne toh doh (let the press ask their questions).”
When asked if he likes the current version of himself, Hard smiled
“Yes, I can say that. I told Rahul Sir also that 10 months back, when I just entered the ground, I was very happy, smiling and excited. Rahul sir must have thought I was over excited for the match.
“I just told him, this is what I want to do until I play the sport. Enjoy the sport and contribute as much as possible and at a certain level of standard that I expect myself to play at.”
For him, the last seven months were the best of his life.
“As you said about the last six to seven months, but I will also count the time away from the game where I was preparing, was one of the best moments of my life. It taught me a lot of things and put me on a way like I could never have imagined.”
“And that’s when I realized that it’s time for you to be what you want to be – play at the highest level, be able to contribute in every game, no matter what the result would be, but to be there, ‘ to give yourself an opportunity to contribute as much as possible,” he explained.
For Pandya, he wants to count his blessings and look at where he has been and where he has reached now.
“I don’t think I would like to change anything in my life and it would be the best six months. I might have better days, but the journey that has happened and where I’ve come from and where I’ve reached is very grateful to my family and also the people who helped me.”
Rather score striking 40 in a high-stakes game
For Pandya, the amount of runs does not matter as much as the impact his scores bring.
“For me, these (against Pakistan) are the matches that make heroes. I don’t want to perform in a dead rubber where the team is already cruising and I come in and smash 80 runs. I like to score those 40s and 50s . where my team needs me more. Maybe a 40-ball 40, but that’s good,” he explained.
India won a ball off the last ball of the match, but if the result had gone the other way, the Baroda man would still be happy.
“Even with three balls left, I told the boys, even if we lose it, it’s okay. I’m just proud of the way we fought in this game. We were a team that worked hard individually and collectively worked.
“Even if we had lost the game, I would have had a smile on my face and said to myself, ‘You know what, they were good that day, but we tried everything.’
In the end, Pandya “accepted the fact” that the sport will bring ups and downs.
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Taking the game deep was key
It never occurred to Pandya that the chances of winning the match dwindled as they were reduced to 31 for 4.
“Partnership had to be built and give myself and Virat the opportunity to take the game deep, we were 31/4 and we didn’t have many options to play the big shots.”
The other reason was an indiscreet shot selection at the start would have spelled disaster and so they took no risk.
“If you don’t try to hang on and instead play big shots to get out, you would never know the possibilities if you hang on and can play risk-free cricket and take the game deep.
“Our minds were clear. So when we needed 50 odd in 3 overs, we didn’t think for once that the target was not achievable. We had the belief.”