Mumbai: Hardik Pandya's first fierce competitor was possibly his bedfellow, brother Krunal. The brothers shower warmth on each other on the field, but make no mistake, this is not how it all started.
As Mumbai Indians meet Chennai Super Kings to finish the 14th edition of the IPL in the UAE on Sunday, the journey of the Pandya brothers could do with some revisiting.
Certified high-performance coach Prabhakar Bairgond, who mentored and coached the two brothers, was witness to their backyard battles. They would give no quarter to each other, Bairgond says. Those jousts steeled them into hardened cricketers.
Hardik would actually retrieve tennis balls near the Kiran More Cricket Academy in Vadodara. Shy, short, skinny...those early images belie the impeccably clipped body that we see today. It's well-documented how on More's insistence their father enrolled the two at the Kiran More Cricket Academy.
How does one comprehend Hardik's transformation? Medium-pace was beyond his pale. Finger-spin demand power, a swift pivot and force of the hip. Understandably, Hardik switched to leg-break before becoming an accidental fast-bowler while filling in for a pacer in a local match. For a first-timer in the cruelly exacting vocation of fast-bowling, his tally of seven wickets in the game felt unreal.
In fact, it is held that since Hardik started bowling quick rather late – he was already 22 then – his bowling muscles may not have developed enough. Which, in a way, explains his spate of injuries.
Don't even rationalise Hardik, the batting beast. Scan the score-sheet of an U-16 West Zone tournament in 2009 at the Reliance Cricket Stadium, Nagothane. Baroda's top order is winkled out. Hardik smashes 228, the only double century of his career. Number 228 still remains his jersey preference. His bat appears like a cane cutting wind, something that was missing during the recent ODIs against Sri Lanka. Apparently, he clears 300 yards easily on golf courses these days.
Bairgond would say that Hardik's hand speed, sweet hitting point and explosive power comes from hours of merciless training. So intense were their fitness drills that the two would throw up. Of course, Hardik is a fine flowering of scientific cricket drills. Under Bairgond's watch, he polished the extension of his top arm while going through the shot. We see this even when Hardik executes the upper cut.
Krunal hasn't quite resided into our imagination the way Hardik has. But his cricketing peers swear by his intensity. There was a time he would set smart fields for his brother and let out yelps of delight at outsmarting him. He may not have made the T201 World Cup squad, but that wouldn't slacken his intensity. He'll be eager and ready should an unlikely opportunity present itself. Strange things have happened to the brothers in any case. Ask Hardik.
‘Net’ gains for Dhoni
Chennai Super Kings on Saturday shared the video of Dhoni taking the bowlers to cleaners in the practice game. "All arealayum Thala," CSK tweeted.
Before the season got suspended earlier this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the IPL was proving to be unlike any other as three teams were storming ahead in the race to reach the playoffs --Delhi Capitals, Chennai Super Kings, and Royal Challengers Bangalore.
These three teams are all but certain of reaching the playoffs after cementing the first three spots in the points table. Rishabh Pant-led DC has 12 points from 8 games and the side needs to win two more matches to cement a playoff spot.
CSK and RCB have 10 points each from seven games and they need to win three more out of their remaining seven matches to reach the playoff stage.
If there are no surprises, the battle will be between five teams to seal the fourth spot in the points table.
TEAM M W L PT
DC 8 6 2 12
CSK 7 5 2 10
RCB 7 5 2 10
MI 7 4 3 8
RR 7 3 4 6
PBKS 8 3 5 6
KKR 7 2 5 4
SRH 7 1 6 2
MI: The defending champions have added fast bowling all-rounder Roosh Kalaria as an injury replacement for Mohsin Khan.
CSK: Last heard, Faf du Plessis is available to shore up Chennai's batting. Apparently, he has recovered from a groin strain.
* Sam Curran is still in quarantine; he touched down in the UAE only on Wednesday.