Before the start of the tournament, many had doubts over Hardik Pandya getting back to his all-round best after back surgery, rehabilitation and persistent fitness concerns meant he was a pale shadow of himself for Mumbai Indians and India in IPL 2021 as well as Men’s T20 World Cup in the UAE.
After India crashed out of the Super 10 stage, Pandya took time off the game to work on his fitness, especially on his pace bowling, which had made him an asset for the national team as well as in franchise cricket. In IPL 2022, Pandya had to take care of his all-round abilities as well as captaining the side.
He carried all of those duties really well in the tournament but saved his all-round best for the last in front of a sell-out IPL final at Gujarat’s home ground, the Narendra Modi Stadium on Sunday.
With the ball, Pandya brought himself over to pick 3/17 and made a vital 34 with the bat as Gujarat make light work of Rajasthan’s 130/9 to clinch their maiden IPL trophy.
Sanju Samson tried to up the ante but miscued the pull off the outer edge to backward point. He was nailing his hard lengths, either through cutters or seam-up balls, against Devdutt Padikkal, which eventually forced the left-hander to end his misery by cutting to short third man off leg-spinner Rashid Khan.
Pandya’s seam up delivery on back of the length worked again when a circumspect Jos Buttler nicked behind to Wriddhiman Saha. Shimron Hetmyer carted Pandya for boundaries through off-side in the 15th over.
But the Gujarat skipper had the last laugh when the left-hander defended too early on a back-of-the-length ball and popped a simple return catch back to the bowler, effectively breaking the back of Rajasthan’s innings and causing the slide of their innings to 130/9.
Fifty per cent of Pandya’s balls in his spell were short or back-of-the-length areas while 38 per cent of the deliveries were in the good-length area. “Wanted to show at the right time what I’ve worked hard for. Today was the day from the bowling point of view I saved the best for the best.”
“Second ball of my spell when I got Sanju out, saw that if you hit the wicket hard and hit the seam something is gonna happen. All about sticking to the right lengths, asking the batters to play the right shots,” were Pandya’s words after the match.
With the bat, Pandya was tied down by new-ball bowlers Trent Boult and Prasidh Krishna but got some boundaries here and there. But the introduction of Ravichandran Ashwin brought Pandya the chance to find his groove, taking the off-spinner for a four with a thick outer edge past the keeper and followed it up with a six over wide long-on.
Though he fell to a beauty from Rashid, Pandya had done the anchoring job which was carried forward by Shubman Gill till Gujarat crossed the finish line for the trophy.
“For me my team is the most important. I’ve always been that kind of individual. If I were to have a worse season and my team wins, I’ll take that. Batting comes first to me, always going to be close to my heart. When we got the auction done it was clear I had to bat higher to guide,” concluded Pandya after a wonderful all-round show which changed the course of the final.