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Hardik Pandya was awarded Man of the Match for his stellar performance BCCI

October 16, 1978, India‘s greatest fast-bowling all-rounder Kapil Dev made his international debut. Five years later he led India to its first ever World Cup win. Armed with medium pace and a natural out-swinger, he went on to scalp as many as 434 wickets in the longest format. He scored 5,248 runs at 31.04 (most of them came down the order). All in all, he played 356 international matches until 1994. Not many Indian fast-bowling all-rounders could emulate his stamina and brilliance. However, there was a southpaw named Irfan Pathan. But he succumbed to longevity and fitness. 38 years later, on the same day, Kapil handed an ODI cap to a 23-year-old all-rounder from Baroda named Hardik Pandya. FULL CRICKET SCORECARD: India vs New Zealand, 1st ODI at Dharamsala

Pandya isn’t new to international cricket. He made his Twenty 20 International (T20I) debut earlier this year against Australia at Adelaide. It was a nightmare, by all means. He was a new kid on the block locking horns with one of the finest of the current generation Steven Smith. He appeared uneasy, so much so that he bowled three consecutive wides to start off his journey. It was, in fact, a 11-ball over, including 5 wides and two boundaries. And the swords were out…

Pandya, however, carries a certain charm; a Caribbean charm, to be precise. That very smile never leaves his face. Lanky by stature and jovial by nature (I’m not trying to be poetic), he is what the modern-day kids strive to become a swagger (there, I killed the poetic effect).

All this unique yet clich d (paradox, I know) traits of his helped him bounce back after his horrendous first over. He ended with figures of 37 for 2, including wickets of Chris Lynn and Mathew Wade. Nonetheless, he did not get to bat throughout the series.

His first shot to fame with the bat was at Ranchi against Sri Lanka. He bludgeoned 27 off just 12 balls. If truth be told, by no means does he look strong and robust. He is no Jacques Kallis or Andrew Flintoff. He simply times the ball to perfection. He is still no Yuvraj Singh when the hit comes to clean hitting. His bat swing is just effective enough to send the ball soaring over the boundary line.

He has all the attributes to become a top-drawer all-rounder. He has all the calibre to turn the game on its head. And he has done so in IPL but is yet to simulate the same in the international arena. More importantly, he is ever-improving.

He was called up for the five-match, 50-over series against New Zealand. It was time for him to display his all-round abilities in a longer format.

The opposition had the likes of Martin Guptill, New Zealand’s only ODI double-centurion; Kane Williamson, New Zealand’s best; Luke Ronchi, a power-hitter; among others.

His ODI debut was a reminiscence of his T20 debut. 1, 4, 4, 0, 4 read his first five deliveries. He was up against Guptill. The outfield was faster than MS Dhoni’s stumping (not literally). There was grass on the track. Playing in the Himalayas, there was wind blowing from one end. The climate was very New Zealand-like: calm and soothing. Let’s not get distracted by Dharamsala’s beauty.

Guptill looked dangerous. But the grass on the track offered assistance to the pacers. Pandya ran in hard. The seam pointed first slip. The ball hit the corridor of uncertainty, kissed Guptill’s outside edge and flew to Rohit Sharma at second slip. That smile on Pandya’s face expressed his emotions. His first ODI wicket drew New Zealand’s first blood.

He clocked 140kph. Umesh Yadav, at the other end, wasn’t the only fast bowler in the team, for Pandya matched up to his sheer pace.

The pitch did not produce a threatening bounce. Batsmen could easily churn out runs when bowled on the shorter side. The Pandya-Yadav duo bowled accordingly. He pitched everything up, making the ball move. Pandya, given his inexperience, still managed to apply himself sensibly.

His next two wickets were of Corey Anderson and Ronchi, New Zealand’s middle-order force. Both were dismissed while clearing the infield. Eventually, he was awarded Man of the Match for his stellar performance.

Did we call him ever-improving earlier, remember? Here’s why.

In the 5 matches he played in ICC World T20 2016, he bowled at an economy of over 9 (thrice it read over 10). He then banged the ball in, eliminating the swing factor. Not sure whether he was asked by MS Dhoni to do so. He flunked, nonetheless.

Yes, he took India to the doorstep of victory in the last-over thriller against Bangladesh. But let’s face it, Bangladeshi batsmen could not have played worse cricket. They dug their own grave. Yes, yes, I remember Dhoni’s brilliance behind the wickets. He gets enough footage. There’s biopic of his, for God’s sake. As I write this, I realised how Dhoni often manages to steal the thunder.

We were discussing Pandya if Dhoni distracted you by any chance. All the same, Pandya’s length in the first ODI was on the fuller side. To further dissect his action, he is best-suited for full-length deliveries. The arm swing, the release, the stretch: these aspects work wonders for him when he allows the ball to seam.

To remind you, he had a terrible time in IPL 2016. He picked up only 3 wickets in 11 matches. That’s how bad he was. The fame he received earlier was soon diminished. The outcome came as no surprise. He was dropped from India’s tour of Zimbabwe 2016.

Meanwhile, Pandya did not change. He lived his king-size life. His Instagram posts suggested so. He hit the gym and worked harder on his fitness. Above all, he worked harder on the technical aspects of the game.

With four more matches to go, Pandya’s improved skills will be put to a further test. The tracks won’t provide the same venom with the way it did at Dharamsala. He will be taken to the cleaners. The ball may even stop swinging after the mandatory powerplay. The conditions will differ. He will be even asked to bowl in the death overs. In short, it will be an uphill climb for the promising youngster.

If he manages to get his act together, he might become the all-rounder India has been looking for since Kapil called it a day. However, for that to happen, he will have to emulate Kapil’s stamina more than the brilliance.

(Kaustubh S. Mayekar, a reporter at CricketCountry, played cricket at U-16 level. Like his idol Rahul Dravid, he often shadow-practises cricket shots. His Twitter handle is @kaumedy_)