On a pitch at a sunny Saturday afternoon in DY Patil Stadium, Hardik Pandya was motoring nicely in his third successive IPL fifty against Kolkata Knight Riders.
Pandya was looking all set to take Gujarat to a score above 180. But on a short, slower delivery from pacer Tim Southee in the 18th over, Pandya couldn't get the required power and elevation for the pull and holed out to a diving deep mid-wicket.
After his fall, Southee got Rashid Khan out and then Andre Russell in the final over took out Abhinav Manohar and Lockie Ferguson on successive short balls in a sensational four-wicket over. That three overs phase, where slower, short balls were hard to hit on a dry pitch laid the blueprint for Gujarat's bowlers to get wickets with short-pitched stuff.
"We were 10-15 runs short. But with the bowling attack we have, I backed my chances to save 156. The wicket played the same in both innings. It had up and down bounce and the ball was not climbing up much but back of the length was working really well, which was our strength," said Pandya in the post-match virtual press conference.
The short-ball ploy worked as Mohammed Shami took out Sam Billings with a short ball and the top-edge from the blade of the batter flew to keeper Wriddhiman Saha. Shami and Yash Dayal would then trouble Sunil Narine with short ball on the body before the senior pacer got him out by pulling uncomfortably to short fine leg.
"I just told the boys before going in that this will be the game where we need to put our 110 per cent and told them that I had batted for 50 balls, where the most difficult ball was the one which hits the deck. You back your pace and ask the batter to play a good shot. With the kind of start we got initially and the execution we did, kudos to all the boys and I was very happy. I would always back my bowlers and bowling attack."
Nitish Rana anticipated a short ball but poked at a length delivery and the edge went behind to Saha. Shreyas Iyer was also undone by the short ball coming from over-the-wicket angle of Dayal, giving another healthy edge to Saha.
Russell could have had got out early on the short ball if not for Dayal's front foot no ball. Though the big-hitter slammed sixes on short balls, he eventually fell to a short ball from Joseph, getting a top-edge on pull to fine leg.
It also helps that Pandya's evolved understanding of the game over the years is now helping him as a leader of the Gujarat side and resort to tactics which enable his team to win in IPL 2022.
"Captaincy obviously helps a lot. I'm always a cricketer who loves to take responsibility. I have a bit of understanding of the game having batted for so many years. You're successful because you have an understanding of the game. Having played so many matches, I'm able to use my experience. I have the understanding about making the batting and bowling changes as I have been able to understand the nature of the wicket. So far, has been so good."
With Gujarat now on top of the points table with the eight-run win on Saturday, Pandya wants to remain in the present and is not interested in thinking too far.
"I don't think it's my comeback (bid to the Indian team) anyway and secondly I don't focus on my comeback. I focus on the games which I play. Currently, I am playing IPL and will focus on it, then will see where the future takes. It's never in my hands now. I focus on the team which I'm playing in. We are doing pretty well and I'm very happy,"
For now, he wants to get back to the preparation board and recover well to get a crack at bowling (maybe short balls), something which he didn't do against Kolkata.
"With the three days left, I'll go back to the drawing board and recover to see how I am. It was hot (on Saturday), so we didn't want to take risks. Rash (Rashid Khan) was there to take care on the field."20220424-134406