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Hardik Pandya – The fifth wheel of Indian bowling

India were a win away from sealing their semi-final berth. They were pitted against Bangladesh, who needed nothing less than a victory to survive. Chasing 315 runs, Bangladesh were leaving no stone unturned. Their star all-rounder was leading the effort. After losing Tamim Iqbal, Shakib Al Hasan and Soumya Sarkar started the fightback. At 74/1 in 15 overs, they were cruising.

The fifth bowler in the Indian bowling attack started his spell. Hardik Pandya’s first ball was too short. It went flying above Sarkar’s head, the umpire duly called it a wide. The follow-up delivery was equally poor. Pitched short and wide, it was angled across the left-hander. Sarkar who could have well left it alone to get an extra run, slashed it straight to Virat Kohli at covers.

Later, Liton Das was hurried by a bouncer from Pandya. He was beaten by pace and sliced a short ball that got the better of him. Shakib was the one man standing between India and the win. The Indian all-rounder deceived Bangladesh’s run-machine with a slower ball sent at 122 kmph. On a sluggish track, it was the perfect delivery to prize out Shakib. Pandya’s three wickets almost sealed the game for India.

In the bowling attack that has proven wicket-takers like Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav, Pandya is supposed to be the weak link. He is supposed to be the bowler that the opposition should have a go against. However, the all-rounder has risen to the occasion and has not allowed the opposition a breather.

In the World Cup so far, the Indian team has sent down 322.1 overs. Almost 78% of the overs have been delivered by India’s four specialist bowlers. The remaining 70 overs belonged to the fifth bowler and other part-timers. Of these, Kedar Jadhav has bowled 6 overs, Vijay Shankar has bowled 5.1 overs and Pandya has bowled 59 overs.

Although Pandya is yet to enthral us with his beastly batting, his smart bowling has produced more than expected. The boy from Baroda may not have the express pace but his bowling at 140-plus speed has troubled the batsmen. Pandya does not depend on lateral movement to get his wickets. He mixes his pace cleverly and bowls in angles that are awkward for the batsmen.

So far in India’s seven completed matches, Pandya has bowled his quota of 10 overs four times. The times he didn’t, was when the match was either truncated (against Pakistan) or the opposition was all out (against West Indies) or the team used a spinner on a helpful track (against South Africa). Taking eight wickets at an economy of 5.79, Pandya has not only fulfilled the containing role of the fifth bowler but has also struck crucial blows.

In the marquee clash against Pakistan, Pandya removed two of Pakistan’s most experienced batsmen in two consecutive deliveries. The wickets of Mohammad Hafeez and Shoaib Malik broke Pakistan’s confidence in the chase. In the Afghanistan game, the all-rounder got rid of Gulbadin Naib at a crucial juncture. Pandya was the partnership-breaker against West Indies as well. By dismissing a well-set Sunil Ambris, he sparked a collapse from which the Caribbean side could not recover. We already saw Pandya’s heroics versus Bangladesh.

While we have not seen Pandya’s bat talk a lot, he has been outstanding in his role as the fifth bowler. He has not allowed teams to take a breather when the specialist bowlers are not operating. He is the fifth wheel that has helped the Indian bowling car to run through the opposition.

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