'He is one of the best things that has happened to Indian cricket in recent years'
'Rather than comparing him with Kapil Dev, we should leave him alone and take pride that we’ve unearthed a genuine allrounder'
'Kohli has understood Pandya’s talents very well and made the most of them across formats'
Nayan Mongia is considered one of the best brains in the country. He is respected as much for his comments and analyses today as he was appreciated for his wicketkeeping and batting during his playing days. The veteran of 44 Tests and 140 ODIs, who hails from Baroda, is one of the few India players who has seen the rise of Hardik Pandya right from the days when he had been learning the ABC of cricket.
Mongia has also closely followed Virat Kohli’s captaincy ever since he took over from Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
In an exclusive interview with Haresh Pandya, conducted at his tastefully designed and decorated bungalow in Baroda just a few hours before Pandya hit a match-winning 78 against Australia in the third ODI in Indore, the former India stumper expresses his candid views on the gifted allrounder and also sheds light on Kohli’s captaincy.
You have been a witness to Hardik Pandya’s rise right from his junior cricket days to his India debut and all that he has done and achieved while playing for the country. How do you view him as well as his cricket?
He is one of the best things that has happened to Indian cricket in recent years. He is a naturally gifted cricketer. He has the potential to become a world-class allrounder. Although he is still in the initial stage of his international career, and has a lot to prove, he continues to impress in almost every match. He is very enthusiastic, exciting and passionate about everything he does on the field. He is bound to go places.
Yes, “he continues to impress”, but don’t you think he hasn’t been truly tested yet irrespective of his good performance against Sri Lanka?
It’s not his fault. He has grabbed his opportunities and tried to justify his talents as well as the selectors’ confidence in him. Forget Sri Lanka. Australia is one of the best teams in the world and he has done quite well in the first two ODIs in the ongoing series in India. Considering his natural ability, and the overall resultant performances so far, I’m very confident he will do well against other sides as well. And in all the three formats, let me add.
What did you find most impressive in Pandya as a junior cricket? When did you feel that he would play for India one day?
His natural talents in all the three departments were obviously impressive. And also his ability to work hard and perform true to his potential, of course. He is a fast learner and it reflects in his much improved performance as a batsman and bowler since the Sri Lanka jaunt. He listens to the advice of the seniors and always strives to improve himself.
He was a leg-spinner in the beginning -- a batsman who could bowl leg-spin. Frankly, I don’t know how good a leggie he was. It was after his impressive showing in the Indian Premier League that it became increasingly obvious that the India cap was only a matter of time.
You said he was a leggie to begin with. How did he become a fast bowler?
I think one of his Under-19 coaches suggested him to bowl medium-pace in the nets. Maybe it was because of his good height. And he has been a fast bowler ever since. Of course, he didn’t have the physique to bowl the way he does now. He developed the body by exercising vigorously.
Who do you think is better, Pandya the fast bowler or Pandya the batsman?
I think his batting has a clear edge over his bowling. He is an instinctive batsman who loves to play his shots. But he has to learn to check his aggressive streak, which often proves his undoing, and bat keeping the situation in mind. There’re some areas in his batting that he needs to sort out. Once he does that, he will be a better and more dangerous batsman, I’m sure.
As far as his bowling is concerned, he gives a hint of being a thinking bowler, which is a good sign. He is a perfect or an ideal medium-pacer for the shorter versions, particularly Twenty20 cricket, but I’d love to see whether he has it in him to bowl marathon spells in Tests.
Kapil Dev, with whom many have already begun comparing Pandya, was known for his ability to bowl longer spells even on the docile Indian pitches in sweltering heat. Do you think Pandya has the makings of another Kapil Dev?
It’s too early to say. Pandya has played only three Tests, and that too against a lowly Sri Lanka, and a handful of ODIs. Rather than comparing him with Kapil Dev, we should leave him alone and take pride in the fact that we’ve unearthed a genuine allrounder.
I know some former players have also said there’re shades of Jacques Kallis in Pandya. But again I’d like to say the same. Pandya is a raw youth. Let him develop his skills. Let him play and prove against other opponents, too, and show a fair degree of consistently good performances.
Though I see a world-class allrounder in him and feel that a bright future beckons him, I’d like to keep my fingers crossed. I’d like to see the full development of his cricket and the progress he makes as an allrounder before venturing into any comparison with any legend.
You have also seen his brother, Krunal, from close quarters. Who do you think is better, regardless of the fact that Hardik Pandya now plays for India?
I feel Krunal is a better player, at least when it comes to batting. He is a better and more disciplined batsman. He, too, is a fine allrounder. But he is a spinner, and we’ve had many such bowlers around, which is why the India cap may elude him. But there is no doubt about Krunal’s class.
Besides his own genius, is there any other factor that may have helped Hardik Pandya?
In fact, there’re several factors. He was called for the national duty at a very young age with hardly any first-class experience. You can say he was picked straight from the IPL, where he caught the eye with his ability to hit mighty sixes and to chip in with a wicket or two in his short bursts.
Above all, he has always enjoyed his captain Virat Kohli’s full backing. A player, especially a youngster like Hardik Pandya, can’t ask for more when his captain supports him to the hilt. Kohli has understood Pandya’s talents very well and made the most of them across the formats. In fact, Kohli seems so much confident of Pandya’s ability with the bat that he doesn’t mind sending him above Dhoni sometimes. And Pandya has happily and positively responded, more often than not.
Much the same could be said about his bowling, too.
How do you rate Kohli as a captain, anyway?
He is brilliant, absolutely brilliant, as a captain. He is astute, imaginative and adventurous at times. He trusts his players and gives them all the freedom to express themselves out there in the middle without curbing their natural talents or instincts. He respects and supports his players, seniors and youngsters alike, which is best exemplified in the way he has treated Pandya and Dhoni.
The players, too, seem to have taken Kholi to their hearts and it reflects in their sustained collective good performance, which has triggered a match-winning streak for Team India in Tests, ODIs and Twenty20s.
But except in Sri Lanka and the West Indies, most of India’s wins under Kohli have been achieved on Indian soil. Don’t you think his true test will come only when India steps into the dens of giants like Australia, England and South Africa?
Yes, of course. But this Indian team is so good and talented that it is surely capable of doing equally well in Australia, England and South Africa. We’ve some of the best players in the world. Players like Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja could walk into any team of the world for any format. And any Test team will feel proud to have Cheteshwar Pujara in its ranks.
Our bench strength is also very solid. We’ve got more than 25 tried and tested world-class players to choose from. Can you imagine a batsman like Karun Nair, who scored a Test triple century against England only last year, is not part of India’s squad presently? In fact, India could afford to rest players like Ashwin and Jadeja even against a stronger opponent like Australia.
I’m sure Kohli and his men will fare better abroad, too, and win matches against the team that matter. Team India under Kohli has the nucleus to win the traditional 50-over World Cup in England in 2019.
Do you support Kohli’s basic aggro as a captain?
Yes, I do. Aggressiveness comes naturally to Kohli. It’s the aggressive streak in his personality that makes him such an imaginative and adventurous captain. He can look his opponents in the eye and, if they behave badly, repay them in their own currency.
Being of the same age as many of his teammates has also helped Kohli to strike a good rapport with the entire team. If he curbs his aggressive instincts, he won’t be the Kohli we’ve come to know and admire and respect. As long as he doesn’t cross the line, Kohli’s aggressiveness as a captain is an endearing quality.
Should Dhoni, who plays only in the shorter versions now, be retained in the Indian team for the 2019 showpiece event?
Why not! As long as he is fit, enthusiastic and performing, he should be encouraged to continue playing. Just look at his sheer consistency with the bat in the last half-a-dozen matches or so. And his glove-work is simply outstanding even at this age.
Age is only a number in Dhoni’s case. He is still a great finisher, still a great match-winner. He knows how to take the situation in his hand in adversity, especially when there is a chase on. Being the senior most and highly respected player, Dhoni continues to be a big influence on the team. Kohli has benefited immensely from Dhoni’s advice and tips from behind the stumps.
Besides his own fitness and form, Dhoni enjoys the backing of both Kohli and Ravi Shastri. There really is no reason why he shouldn’t feature in the Indian team for the 2019 World Cup.
Yuvraj Singh seems to have lost out somewhere. Do you think he should still be a part of Team India in ODIs and Twenty20s?
Where is the place for him? Truly in-form players are also struggling to make it to the playing XI because others are in a greater form still. And they’re very consistent, too.
Yuvraj has been given plenty of opportunities until recently. But there has been a decline in his form and I think that is the only reason why he is not selected.
Realistically speaking, I think even if he strikes a purple patch, he may still struggle to make it to the Indian team now, which is packed with exciting players.
Dhoni’s case is different. He hasn’t only been performing consistently well. He is a wicket-keeper and his glove-work at this age can put to shame many younger wicket-keepers.
But there is no place for Suresh Raina either. Isn’t Raina an ideal player for ODIs and Twenty20s? His record, as well as match-winning ability, is there for all to see. What do you think could be the reason for Raina’s omission?
I don’t think there is any other reason than the fact that he is simply inconsistent. Otherewise, he is still young and fit as a fiddle. I hope he will regain his touch and begin to perform consistently well, which should enable him to stage a successful comeback into the Indian team.
I for one would love to see Raina in the Indian team for the 2019 World Cup. His aggressive, positive and selfless batting always comes in handy in the death overs in particular. He has won or finished off many games in style for India in company of Dhoni.
Whether batting or fielding, Raina is a livewire. He deserves to be part of India’s World Cup campaign.