WHY PANDYA BATS AT NO. 8
The all-rounder is afforded time and space to grow as player
As India looked for some quick, impactful runs from the lower order, Hardik Pandya went after the bowlers for big hits. He was caught at long off, and then cursed himself in agony all the way back to the pavilion. That was in the second Test at the Sinhalese Sports Club (SSC) ground in Colombo where he holed out for 20 runs off 20 balls.
In the first Test at Galle, Pandya had recorded a maiden Test half-century scoring 50 off 49 balls as he shepherded the tail. It has been a short career so far, but these two innings perhaps provide a microcosmic view of how Pandya’s Test career is expected to progress. Loads of big hits, quick runs, with some glory and anguish thrown in good measure if not equally. The common point between the two innings was that he batted at no.8 in both Galle and Colombo. A school of thought asks why isn’t he batting further up, ahead of R Ashwin if not Wriddhiman Saha? Isn’t Pandya in the squad because of his mercurial all-rounder role? This is where a bit of context is needed.
Since the West Indies’ tour, in 19 Tests, India have scored tall on umpteen occasions. They have three 400-plus scores, threemore500-plusscores,ahumongousfive600-plusscores and also crossed the 700-mark in Chennai owing to Karun Nair’s stunning triple hundred.
There are two factors at play here. One, of course, is the input into the lower-order batting. India have invested in five bowlers more often than not, and thus they are heavily reliant on their lower order batsmen to score runs. The latter have responded to this call from the team management with the increase in averages of Ashwin (34.78 up from 32.85), Saha (45.56 up from 33.21) and even Ravindra Jadeja (41.43 up from 29.89) reflected from last summer onwards.
The second factor is in regards with how the team management sees its lower-order batsmen, each performing a specificrole.ItisbestreflectedinhowSahahasgoneonfrom strengthtostrengthoncethestrategicdecisiontochangehis batting position was made.
It was in 2015, the last time India toured Sri Lanka, when Saha was trying to establish himself as the No.1 keeper/batsman choice after MS Dhoni’s retirement. The results weren’t adequate. Saha scored 131 runs in four innings here and then fluffed his chances with 83 runs in 6 innings against South Africa later at home.
Then, in the first Test against West Indies at Antigua last year, Ashwin came out to bat at No.6 ahead of Saha. Clearly, the team wanted someone to drop anchor and bat deep whilst Saha was free to attack lower down the order. In short, he was given freedom to bat lower down the order. “It is not about individual preferences,” the Bengal keeper said in Colombo this past week. “Each of us are assigned a batting spot and we are expected to perform a particular role. The team assigns us on the basis of our ability.”
Cynics may argue that Test cricket isn’t about playing in your comfort zone. It is hard to argue with that reasoning. However, the Indian team management has the example of Jadeja to cite as well. For a long time since he first burst onto the Test scene in 2012-13, the left-hander was asked to be someone he was not — a dependable lower-order batsman that he is today. Never mind those three Ranji triplehundreds, Jadeja’s record in the first half of his 32-Test career thus far was indicative of the wide chasm between domestic and international cricket.
In summation, these two underlying points give enough
reasoning why Pandya walked out to bat at no.8 in both the first and second Test. As much as can be foreseen, the team management will stick with this batting order in the near future as well. It is a clear strategic investment in Pandya, who is an attacking batsman. The message from the dressing room is clear – go play your natural game. He has been given a license to learn in his own manner but within the timeframe of a hectic international cricket schedule.
Given that India are set to tour South Africa, England and Australia in 2018, Virat Kohli clearly doesn’t want to make the same mistake with Pandya that MS Dhoni perhaps made with Jadeja.