In the pre internet era, cricket fans relied on carefully compiled newspapers, almanacks and magazines to keep data on their favourite teams and players. Now everything is accessible at the click of a button. But, if you ever find yourself in an internet-less world, one important piece of cricketing data that will never be lost is the career, life, and times of Hardik Pandya.
Because every Hardik Pandya cricketing fact is stored, with instant recall, in the person of Rishabh Jain, 17-year-old aspiring lawyer from Hyderabad. Jain is an ardent Hardik follower, who switched loyalties from Mumbai Indians to Gujarat Titans when his hero’s team changed. He is a walking encyclopaedia on Hardik, reeling off details about innings, opposition, venue, match situations – all of it faster than the click of a button. He might have been able to give a breakdown of Hardik against pace and spin, at the death or in the middle overs, and whether Hardik had two gulps or three of the energy drink at the break. We didn’t ask.
“I’ve been watching cricket since 2011 and I’ve been following the IPL very closely,” Jain told Gujarat Titans, after we reached out to him when he appeared on the 12th Khiladi website on a fan show. “I used to support Mumbai Indians in 2015, and there was a must-win game against Chennai Super Kings. They needed 30 runs in two overs, and at that time Hardik Pandya was a very new cricketer, coming along in the ranks. And then Rohit Sharma, who was the set batter, got out, but Hardik Pandya hit three sixes in the penultimate over and sealed the match there. Keeping his nerve at such a young age in that pressure atmosphere, I felt that not many people have that ability. I also always wanted to be a fast-bowling allrounder, so that hit me directly. And since that moment I have always worshipped Hardik Pandya.”
You can save time googling the match to check the figures. We did, and every single fact and number is correct.
“When I heard that he was signed up by Gujarat Titans and was also going to captain, I was very excited,” Jain says. “Especially for a new franchise, starting from scratch. It was a new role for him as well, so I was really looking forward to that. And when I heard that the other retentions were Shubman Gill and Rashid Khan, I was instantly very happy as well. I thought that was a very good core to build on. But from the minute I heard that Hardik Pandya is going to be the captain of Gujarat Titans, that’s when I knew that I’m going to support the Gujarat Titans.”
After the IPL 2022 auctions, Jain faced some amount of ribbing from his friends. The Titans hadn’t done well. Where were the batsmen? What about Hardik’s fitness? What team had they built? Nine matches and eight wins later, it’s Jain asking the questions and his friends avoiding them.
“After the auctions were done, everyone said that Gujarat has the weakest team because of a fragile batting order,” Jain remembers. “They said only Shubman Gill is there, and especially after Jason Roy pulled out, people started writing off Gujarat even more. But I somehow always believed that Gujarat would do well because of the number of match-winners. And we have a really good bowling attack as well. When you have Rashid Khan, alongwith Mohammed Shami and Lockie Ferguson, you can bank on them on most days, through all phases. So I was personally very confident.
“None of my friends thought so. Now that we have a good shot at making the playoffs and the top two, I keep taunting my friends, that ‘I told you. I was the only one who believed in Gujarat’, and they sort of look away and try to divert the conversation (laughs).”
Jain’s superfandom of Hardik has remained intact ever since he saw him burst on the scene in 2015. He stops his own matches to watch Hardik bat.
“When I know it’s an MI match day (earlier) or an India match day, or now a Gujarat Titans match day, I try to finish all my work before that so that I can freely enjoy watching Hardik bat,” Jain shares. “Even if I’m playing outside, I have Hotstar on my phone. I have this alert on, or my friends tell me that Hardik Pandya is coming out to bat now, so I stop playing and watch from wherever I am.”
He has seen Hardik through ups and downs, and no matter what the future holds, Jain is here to stay.
“After he had a brilliant season in 2015, everyone called him a one-season wonder because he couldn’t carry it on in 2016,” Jain says. “His brother Krunal was doing really well in 2016. But I somehow I knew that he would be back, because it’s very hard as a youngster to keep performing in the second season the way you have in the first season. Teams are prepared for you and you also have the pressure on yourself to replicate the same performance you did in your first season.
“But the way in which he came in 2017, I think he hit a 27-run over in the first game and the bowler was Ashok Dinda [Hardik actually made 28 runs in that over, but the bowler and it being the first game are correct. Naturally]. I don’t find anyone as consistent at what they are doing as Hardik Pandya. Even for India, the way he finishes games, I don’t think anyone is more consistent than him right now. That has kept my support for him going. I don’t think anything can change that.”
One thing Jain hasn’t done yet is had a chance to speak to his hero. “Even a ‘Hi’ from him would make me really happy,” he says. And what if Hardik sends him a personal message? Would it make his day? His week? His year, maybe?
Jain smiles. “It would make my life actually!”