Hardik Pandya is the perfect modern-day cricketer. He can strike the ball big, roll his arm over decently, and is a livewire in the field. It is a combination of skills India has long waited for since the retirement of Kapil Dev. Irfan Pathan gave them hope for a while but then lost his mojo and soon disappeared into the wilderness. India will wish that Pandya keeps working on his game and ends the country’s search for a seam-bowling all-rounder.
It was in January 2016 that things turned around for Hardik Pandya. He was the leading run-getter in the Syed Mushtaq Ali, a domestic T20 tournament, finishing with 377 runs in 10 innings at an average of 53.85 while maintaining a strike rate of 130.90. He also took 10 wickets and was instrumental in Baroda reaching the finals. His effective all-round show impressed Mumbai and they bought him in the 2015 edition of the Indian T20 League. He hit a 31-ball 61 for Mumbai against Kolkata in his first season to catch the attention of everyone. With the ability to strike big and bowl quick, he was so impressive that the then coach, Ricky Ponting could not stop praising him.
After a stellar performance, Pandya was picked for India's tour to Australia in 2015 for the T20Is. He started with a 19-run over on his international debut but came back strongly to almost take a hat-trick. He has had a love for the big stage, in the 2016 World T20, he bowled the last over and defended two runs off three balls against Bangladesh.
It is how cruel the sport is at times that it takes you high enough only to make you vulnerable for a big fall. It was off his bowling that Lendl Simmons was dismissed off a no-ball and the West Indian went on to play an unbeaten inning to knock India out in the semi-final. Also, not to forget his heroics in the 2017 Champions Trophy final against Pakistan where he struck a 43-ball 76 and gave a real scare to the arch-rivals.
His exploits in the limited-overs handed him a Test cap for India's tour of South Africa in 2018. There he scored 93 in his first innings and earned a lot of plaudits from around the world. With his captain and management's backing, the Indian selectors took him to England's tour as well. In 2019, Hardik had a bumpy ride as he got into controversies resulting in him getting sent back home from Australia in the middle of the series.
After facing a lot of heat due to his derogatory comments on a reality TV show, Hardik made his comeback focused and with a point to prove. The dynamic all-rounder showed irresistible form in the 2019 season of the Indian T20 League and was one of the main reasons for Mumbai's 4th title. With his consistent all-round performance, Pandya cemented his place in the 15-man World Cup squad of India and had a decent outing.
Hardik Pandya has had his fair share of issues with injuries which kept him out of the national team for quite some time. He though returned fitter and stronger and once again proved his mettle as an all-rounder during the 2022 Indian T20 League. Released by Mumbai before the auction, Hardik was bought by Gujarat and given captaincy. The talented cricketer showcased brilliant leadership qualities and led Gujarat to the title in their first attempt.
Pandya’s stellar 2022 continued as he was named as the white-ball captain for the national side in the absence of Rohit Sharma and had a fair bit of success in bilateral series, especially at home. On 17 July 2022, Pandya bowled his ODI career-best 4–24 against England in Old Trafford. His 71 runs scored during the 2nd innings of the same match made him the first Indian player to score a half-century and take 4 wickets in an ODI since Yuvraj Singh in 2011.
Coming into 2023, Pandya had re-established himself as India’s top white-ball all-rounder and had another productive outing as the captain of the Gujarat franchise in the Indian T20 League, helping them reach consecutive finals. Gujarat did come up short against Chennai in the final but Pandya sealed his place in the 2023 ODI World Cup. Leading into the big tournament, Pandya was classed as one of the key assets for India but a few games into the tournament, he suffered an ankle injury while bowling and was sidelined for the remainder of the tournament. India did reach the final of the World Cup but came up short against Australia.
Since the World Cup, the focus has shifted back to the Indian T20 League, and in a surprising move, Pandya was traded back to the Mumbai franchise, a team that gave him the platform and a team with whom he had won it all. Given Pandya was doing a stellar job of leading Gujarat, this move was a shock but has been well-received by cricketing fans across the globe. Mumbai was able to complete the move by trading Aussie talent Cameron Green to Bangalore.