On the fifth day of the third Ashes test, Ben Stokes showed just why he has come a long way since the infamous bar brawl threatened to derail his promising career in 2016. Stokes was restrained in his strokeplay when wickets were falling around him and then, at nine wickets down, when everyone thought that the match was done and dusted, Stokes unleashed his fury—single-handedly taking his side over the line.
Amidst the brilliance of Stokes, as an Indian cricket fan, one couldn’t help but think of our very own exceptional talent, Hardik Pandya, and wonder whether he could have displayed the level of maturity shown by Stokes in the World Cup semifinal. Both have many similarities in their personalities and their game but Stokes has lifted his game by several notches of late. This is exactly where Pandya needs to take a leaf out of his book, as Hardik too has all the qualities to become a consistent match-winner.
When last man Jack Leach joined Stokes in the middle, England still needed 73 runs to keep alive their hopes of winning back the urn. Till then, Stokes firmly held the innings together but none of his teammates displayed the resilience required to see their team through. The penetrative Aussie comprising of the pace trio of James Pattinson, Patrick Cummins and Josh Hazelwood attack was smelling blood. But as soon as the 9th wicket fell, Stokes revealed later, he decided that it was time to up the ante.Though a couple of chances were dropped, fortune smiled on him for it always favors the brave. It was a great advertisement for Test Cricket to the 20,000 crowd at the Headingly and to countless millions watching on television.
But Stokes was not always the responsible guy. It wasn’t until his career was nearly jeopardized following his antics outside a pub in 2016 that Stokes sobered up and channeled all his aggression on to the cricket field. The results started coming in and at the recently-concluded World Cup, Stokes had a major role to play in England’s triumph.
Hardik Pandya is no different from Ben Stokes in terms of his talent and ability. In cricketing terms, both have exceptional hard-hitting abilities with the bat and are fast-bowling all-rounders who can bowl at 85 miles. Like Stokes, Pandya too wears his heart on his sleeve and leaves no one guessing about what he is thinking at any particular point in the game. He is strong—not as big in his built as Stokes, but has a strong core and the ability, like his English counterpart, to hit sixes almost at will. The media has for years billed Hardik as the next Kapil Dev in the making. But it is the discipline and the quality of absorbing pressure off his teammates that Pandya seems to lack—unlike Stokes.
Over the last couple of seasons, Ben Stokes has redeemed himself and become the go-to-man in crisis situations for England. He literally gives his all on the field. On the third day, Joffra Archer had gone out with a slight injury but Stokes took the entire responsibility on himself. He bowled 20 non-stop overs between a night, not easing in his intensity one bit. Virat Kohli needs Hardik to be that go-to-man for Team India.
Pandya too had his share of controversies like Stokes. He raked up a huge controversy when he put his foot in the mouth on chat show ‘Koffee with Karan’. Now, he only needs to look at his English counterpart to become a more disciplined and effective performer on the field. Notwithstanding his rash displays, captain Kohli has shown sustained faith in Pandya. It is now time for Hardik to work hard, hone his skills and improve his powers of concentration, on the same lines as Stokes, and repay the faith that his captain has reposed in him.
Given Pandya’s promise, potential and the proverbial X-factor that he possesses, Team India will hope that Hardik’s transformation will happen sooner rather than later. Termed a ‘destiny’s child’ by many observers, it’s now up to Hardik to become a man on his own and turn into an inspiration for the young. If he does that, there’s every reason why one day, Pandya too will single-handedly win a match for India from an improbable position—just as Ben Stokes has done so marvelously the other day.
Cover Image: BCCI