Is Hardik The New Dhoni?

IPL 2022 proved a turning point for Hardik Pandya’s career.

Not only did he make a sensational comeback from injury, he defied all expectations to lead Gujarat Titans to the IPL title in their first season.

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It also catapulted his captaincy stock to great heights as he was touted as India’s next captain in white ball cricket and even led the country in a few games.

This year too, Gujarat find themselves among the top contenders in IPL 2023 courtesy of their consistent showing — with four wins from their first six games.

Hardik’s calm demeanour on the field as captain reminds many of Captain Cool Mahendra Singh Dhoni, whom the Baroda all-rounder considers one of his mentors.

It was Hardik once again leading the way for the Titans with a fine rearguard action with the bat against the Lucknow Super Giants on a difficult pitch at the Bharat Ratna Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee Ekana cricket stadium in Lucknow on Saturday, April 22, 2023.

His reading of the conditions was bang on as he elected to bat first on winning the toss, reasoning that the pitch would get slower and difficult to bat in the second innings.

Gujarat didn’t have a good start as star opener Shubman Gill perished for a duck. Hardik did a Dhoni, promoting himself to the crucial No 3 slot ahead of the inexperienced duo of Vijay Shankar and Abhinav Manohar.

Wriddhiman Saha rescued Gujarat after a difficult with a quickfire 47 from 37 balls, getting the boundaries in the Powerplay, while Hardik took his time to settle down.

Hardik made 15 from 18 balls in the 50 run stand for the second wicket with Saha. He got his first four in the ninth over when he lofted leg-spinner Ravi Bishnoi over the covers for a four before smashing the last ball of the over for a straight six.

Saha and Manohar perished in successive overs as Gujarat faced a tough rebuilding task in the middle overs. Vijay Shankar also failed to make it count when he was bowled by Naveen-ul-Haq for 10.

Gujarat were in danger of finishing with a poor target as they struggled past the 100-run mark in the 17th over.

Hardik finally broke the shackles when he slammed Bishnoi for a four and two successive sixes to bring up his half-century from 44 balls, to get 19 runs from the 18th over.

He hit Marcus Stoinis for another six in the final over before he perished to the same bowler after a fighting 66 from 50 balls, which lifted Gujarat to 135/6 in their 20 overs.

The total was not challenging as LSG proved with their quickfire start, racing to 53 for no loss in six overs.

The match continued to drift in LSG’s favour in the middle overs as K L Rahul brought up his fifty from 37 balls.

But Krunal Pandya (23)’s wicket in the 15th over followed by a quick pep talk by Hardik to his team during the strategic timeout turned the match on its head.

The Gujarat bowlers responded brilliantly to their captain’s call with a spirited performance in the last five overs.

Despite needing 30 from the last five overs with eight wickets in hand and Rahul staying till the 20th over, Lucknow messed up an easy run chance to finish seven runs short.

Hardik’s inspired captaincy was largely responsible for the stunning turnaround. He trusted debutant Noor Ahmed and Jayant Yadav to bowl four overs in succession from over 14 to 17, during which LSG could only manage 15 from 24 balls.

Experienced seamers Mohammed Shami and Mohit Sharma completed the job at the end, with LSG losing six wickets for 23 in the last five overs.

The victory couldn’t be sweeter for Hardik and his boys, who were not so long ago at the receiving end, when they were hit by Rinku Singh for five sixes in the final over as KKR chased down 29 from the last over.

While Hardik played a major role in his team’s unbelievable comeback win, his opposite number and close friend Rahul’s lethargic knock proved a major factor in his team’s defeat.

  • IPL 2023

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