Pandya was on Monday, 15 April, named in India’s 15-man squad for the flagship event and is set to make his maiden appearance at the tournament. But just a few months earlier, he was out of the Indian team, called back from their tour of Australia to serve a suspension.
He was subsequently allowed to resume playing and joined the squad in New Zealand, before lower back stiffness kept him out of the home limited-overs series against Australia.
.@hardikpandya7: I will be playing in the World Cup for the first time and it is important to keep hitting the ball well because I was away from the game for some time.#OneFamily #CricketMeriJaan #MumbaiIndians #MIvRCB— Mumbai Indians (@mipaltan) April 15, 2019
Pandya has since put all that behind and shown up in brutal form for Mumbai Indians in the 12th season of the Indian Premier League, striking the ball savagely to finish games for his team. He did it again on Monday, reeling off 37* in just 16 balls to clinch a tight chase for Mumbai, against Royal Challengers Bangalore.
Pandya has made 186 runs this season, averaging 46.50 and striking at 191.75, and felt the confidence he draws from these performances will hold him in good stead at the World Cup.
“It’s okay. Everyone has a setback,” he said about his time on the sidelines. “I wanted to improve and I got some time for my body as well. I think the time I spent out is helping me right now because I’m in a good mind space and everything is coming right.
“It’s important to always have the confidence behind you because World Cup is a big stage. It’s for the first time I’m playing, and for me it was important to keep hitting the ball well because I was away from the game for some time, and coming back, it was important for me to hit it.”
Pandya walked in at a tough time in the Mumbai chase. The home team had just lost a set Suryakumar Yadav and required 41 runs in the last four overs. Not a tough equation in the modern game, but Pandya’s brother, and partner at the other end, Krunal, was struggling to find runs.
It’s important to always have the confidence behind you because World Cup is a big stage. It’s for the first time I’m playing, and for me it was important to keep hitting the ball well.
But in the face of mounting pressure, Pandya unfurled a series of boundaries. It left Mumbai with 22 to get off the last two overs, but Pandya needed only one to finish the game off, carting left-arm spinner Pawan Negi for two fours and as many sixes.
“I guess I’ve been doing this for four years now,” he said. “That’s my role, any team I play for. I’ve been practising the same at the nets. It’s all about situations, you play according to situations, and if you’re smart enough, you’ll more often than not get the result that you desire.”
Pandya similarly launched a savage assault on Pakistan in the final of the ICC Champions Trophy 2017, which was also held in England. Pandya cracked four fours and six sixes as he zoomed to 76 off 43 balls.
It eventually ended in a run out and Pakistan went on to win comfortably, by 180 runs. But the innings remains one of the most brutal knocks in an ICC tournament final.
He said he had learnt from the experience of playing in England. “Obviously, it’s the past, but as a cricketer, I have changed. We also have to see the conditions because the last time we went, lots of people told me it would swing and it would be cold.
“But I have never played on a flat wicket like that before. Depending on the situation and the condition, if it’s the same situation that we played in Champions Trophy, it will be a help for us [at the World Cup].”