Even before he was signed on by Gujarat Titans, he thought working with Ashish Nehra would bring out the best in him.
One of the features of Hardik Pandya’s spectacular captaincy debut in the IPL has been the calm he seems to radiate. Gujarat Titans have had several edge-of-seat thrillers in IPL 2022, but their captain has been poised, and in control. It’s like he’s been floating above it all. But while he’s reached the heights, Hardik hasn’t got vertigo.
So he’s not felt the need to “answer” doubters and sceptics, of which there were plenty: about how the team was post auction, about whether he deserved to be picked ahead of the auction, and about how he would shape up as captain.
“Throughout my life a lot of people have counted me out, and always put a question mark,” Hardik said. “The same thing happened with this auction, or even retention, or even my captaincy. A lot of people put question marks. But the best way to answer, is to not answer. I think all the people who said some things or gave their opinions, I don’t have to tell them to take it back. I think they themselves have taken it back.”
Hardik had a comfort factor even before the auctions, because of who he was going to be working with. Even before the Titans signed him up, Hardik knew that he could form a most effective partnership with Ashish Nehra.
“Before we even signed anything, me and my brother were having a chat and I said someone who can understand me, know me as a person and kind of get the best out of me would be Ashish Nehra,” Hardik said. “For me, playing and spending so much time with him is always fun. I’ve always enjoyed his company, no matter when. Our cricketing minds work in a similar fashion. He is someone who spends so much time looking after people. That is a fantastic quality. He makes sure he gives ample time to every individual. I’m pretty sure in this team as well, if someone feels like they are down or need to speak to someone, everyone feels the same thing – that he’s the man to go to.”
It's a marriage that has worked wonders on the field. Gujarat Titans were the first team to qualify for the playoffs, the first to seal a top-two spot, ended the league as the best team, and qualified for the final at the first opportunity. A season of firsts like no other, and achieved in no small measure because of what Nehra and the support staff bring off the field, and what Hardik brings on the field.
“A lot of credit goes to Ashu pa and the support staff, to make sure that the outside environment is pretty chilled out,” Hardik said. “And when it comes to competitiveness, I think that’s where I take over. When we go on the ground, it’s a ruthless business. I don’t care about the result, I care about the intensity, I care about how much you put in your team.”
Some of the miracle wins the Titans have pulled off, the impossible heists they have performed, have no doubt been helped by the fostering of that team culture, that blend of relaxed and ruthless while still putting team above self. And the captain leads by example.
“I don’t play for my reputation. I play for what my team requires. If my team requires me to play certain roles, I will play no matter how I look. How rusty I look or how awkward I look, it’s irrelevant for me.”
Right now, whatever Hardik is doing is looking pretty darn good.