Hardik Pandya better than Kapil Dev?    Getty Images
Hardik Pandya better than Kapil Dev? Getty Images

Before the purists build the pyre to roast me thinking this to be another article comparing Kapil Dev and Hardik Pandya, let me raise the caution board: this is not. Pandya may have played a sizeable role in India s recent dominance in world cricket, but Kapil remains a once-in-a-generation cricket. It s a different tale that the generation that had the likes of Imran Khan, Ian Botham and Richard Hadlee too. Clive Rice was the unfortunate South African, thanks to apartheid era.

When the century rolled, Wisden shortlisted the final 3 of India s greatest cricketer of 21st century. The names were quite obvious: Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil and Sachin Tendulkar.

Kapil was deservingly crowned the title. His contribution to Indian cricket remains unparalleled.

If the 1983 World Cup triumph under him made this game a religion in India, for years, a lone figure, he toiled as a pacer. Be it the lifeless surfaces at home or the lively ones outside the subcontinent, injured or not injured, with support or without, Kapil slogged and won games on his own.

In a spin-obsessed nation, he went on to inspire a generation of fast bowlers (when did India have one before Kapil?). He made fielding fashionable. In an era, where strike rates in early 60s were considered attacking , he struck close to run-a-ball.

Hence the hype and since 1994, the country has been obsessed to unearth the next Kapil . It s the same elsewhere, England too are calling Ben Stokes the next Botham or next Flintoff . For West Indies, they seemed to have found their next Gayle in Evin Lewin, and so on

From Robin Singh to Sanjay Bangar to Irfan Pathan to Stuart Binny, the search continued Then there were the odds such as Sodhis, Shuklas, Yadavs and Joginders. Where was the next Kapil ?

We need an all-rounder. Even a batsman who can bowl pace like what Sourav Ganguly did will do, said Ravi Shastri as India s director of cricket during the Australia tour in 2014-15.

In 2015, during an interaction with CricketCountry, VVS Laxman said, Hardik Pandya can be the all-rounder that India are looking for. Unlike Rishi Dhawan and many others, he has the X-factor and is getting better every time you see.

Pandya was just an IPL-season old. His claim to fame was that innings against Chennai Super Kings (CSK) where his 8-ball 21 helped Mumbai Indians (MI) snatch a win from the jaws of defeat.

Seriously, Pandya? we thought.

But these greats, I tell you, have a sense for vision. It s for a reason Laxman is a part of the Cricket Advisory Committee (CAC).

Pandya improved with every domestic game and found a spot in the T20Is in Australia. MS Dhoni, the then skipper, trusted him enough to hand him the ball to bowl the last over in India s do-or-die game against Bangladesh in World T20. Rest is history

He was not even six months old when Kapil called it a day. It is unlikely that Pandya will have seen a lot of Kapil, but surely, as he took strides towards the big mark, he got tied in the next Kapil tide.

23 years since, the search seems to have ended but only momentarily. It was a mere coincidence that when Pandya became India s 215th ODI player, Kapil had presented the cap to him at Dharamsala. Kapil was India s 25th ODI cricketer. Note the numbers.

Pandya went on to bag the Man of the Match award.

Renowned journalist Ayaz Memon said that his 78 at Indore reminded him of Kapil. A month back, Pandya slammed 26 in an over against Sri Lanka in a Test. He broke Kapil s record of most runs by an Indian in an over in Tests.

Even if I can be 10 per cent of what Kapil Dev was, I will be pretty happy in my life, Pandya then said.

So what does Kapil think?

Hardik Pandya is better than me. But he has to do a lot of hard work, Kapil announced at a recent press conference.

Better than him? Maybe that s what Kapil hopes for. Or maybe it is numbers at this point of career he is referring to.

Hardik Pandya in Tests

M R Ave HS 50+ W Ave BB SR 5w
3 178 59.33 108 2 4 23.75 2-31 48 0

 

Kapil Dev after 3 Tests

 

M R Ave HS 50+ W Ave BB SR 5w
3 159 31.8 59 1 7 60.85 3-132 100.2 0

 

Hardik Pandya in ODIs

M R Ave HS SR 50s W Ave BB SR Econ 5w
24 489 40.75 83 122.6 4 28 34.03 3-31 36.9 5.52 0

Kapil Dev after 24 ODIs

M R Ave HS SR 50s W Ave BB SR Econ 5w
24 441 21.04 75 98.0 3 25 31.08 3-37 52.6 3.53 0

However, this is a very small sample to judge. Kapil was 19 when he played his first 3 Tests. They came against a very strong Pakistan side at their backyard. Meanwhile, Pandya was four years older and played a listless Sri Lankan side.

In ODIs, Pandya has definitely made a statement. But it is still unfair to draw such comparisons. Kapil was an out-and-out fast bowler who could lead a pace attack; whereas Pandya is more of a support bowler, the third pacer of the side. He isn t expected to run through sides but chip in with vital breakthroughs.

The batting role seemed similar, but Pandya is now being used as a floater who will come and play a role according to the demands. Apart from being right-handed batters, right-arm pacers and excellent fielders, where the skills of the two coincide most is the ability to clear grounds; and also the confidence and ability to back oneself.

In the T20 age, Pandya brings the Caribbean flair to the Indian lineup. From accent to his eccentric style, on and off the field, Pandya is an expressive character.

They Kapil hype now needs to subside.

Pandya may not be the pacer who would finish with 434 wickets or bowl you to wins with hamstring injury. But on his day he can recreate any arena to that special 1983 day at Tunbridge Wells.

The Oval in the 2017 Champions Trophy final almost became that but for the run-out.

It is still too early. We should not create unnecessary burden on him. He has the talent and ability to be a great player, Kapil added.

Rejoicing fact

We have seen the greatest of talents fizzle out. Before Pandya, Baroda gifted the Pathan brothers to the national team. Irfan was the next Kapil and Yusuf was India s answer to Afridi .

Let s not overburden the fresh talent with expectations to replicate or better someone who remained a champion for a decade and half and inspired millions to take up this sport.

Indian fans can rejoice in the fact that Pandya has shown love for spotlight and grand stages, and has improved every time he has walked out. In contrast, a Glenn Maxwell remains a great talent. Has he evolved since the last time he set foot in India in 2013-14 for ODIs?

The Smiths and Warners have. Evolution marks greatness, and that s where Australia are struggling today. Perhaps, this is the ability that Kapil is speaking about.

The next Gavaskar became the first Tendulkar. Virender Sehwag was once the clone and the next Tendulkar . He cared little. He followed the master but went on to carve his own niche. He became the first Sehwag. Maybe Pandya isn t your next Kapil and will end up pummeling odds to be the first Pandya .