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Is it too early to write about Krunal Pandya?

by Naked Cricket


Or to write him off?

To know Krunal better, perhaps we could attempt to know India’s Twenty20 cricket better – Krunal made his T20 international debut a few months back, in November 2018. He’s played nine games so far.

Dinesh Karthik, now considered to be India’s T20 finisher has played 30 games. Over 12 years back, he played in India’s first T20 game. That was then the 10th T20 international being played.

The third T20 of the New Zealand series on February 10, 2019 was the 738th game.

Rohit Sharma, the top T20 run getter, has played 93 games. Rohit did not play in India’s first T20 game. Tendulkar, Sehwag and Raina did. That’s how long ago it was.

Dhoni was the captain then. He would go on to lead India to victory in the first ICC World Twenty20 in 2007. Neither Tendulkar, Sehwag nor Raina featured in that final.

The evolution of a T20 team calls for brutal selections.

From that glorious Indian team of 2007, only Dhoni and Rohit remain.

It’s only in the last few years that India has balanced its significant ODI diet with more T20s. In doing this, it has grappled with acknowledging how ODI and T20 cricket are vastly different –  and require different skills and possibly different selections. While the transformation to picking lean IPL squads has been far swifter, India’s T20 unit has taken long to shed its excess ODI weight.

Where patience and building an innings are a virtue in ODIs, they are a luxury few can ill afford in T20s.

Where in the longer formats, bits and pieces players are exposed, a few overs of glory, make headlines and careers out of players.

It is still early days in Krunal Pandya’s international career. Yet it’s likely, he will continue to be a T20 selection – as much for his own skills, as for the lack of overall T20 skills of other candidates.

So, who are these other candidates?

Ravindra Jadeja – last played a T20 for India in 2017. In his 40 games, he batted only 18 times. Mostly at 7 and 8, with a strike rate less than 100, an average less than 10. The sample size is small and it’s possibly Jadeja’s lack of impact as a bowler as much as Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal’s ascent, that saw him lose out.

Jadeja’s economy is just a shade over 7, but it’s his 31 wickets off 40 games at a much higher strike rate that go against him – 26 to Kuldeep’s 11 and Chahal’s 15.

Kuldeep Yadav already has 35 wickets from 18 games at an economy of 6.72. Chahal has 45 wickets from 29 (economy 7.9) – while neither Yadav nor Chahal have any batting skills of note, it’s as much the attacking bowling option as their ODI rise that has nudged out both Jadeja and Ashwin.

R Ashwin’s 52 wickets from 46 games (economy 6.97) meant he too last played in 2017. Incidentally, both Ashwin and Jadeja last turned up in a T20I on July 9, 2017 – both ended wicketless, one went for 39 off his 4, the other 41 off 3.3 overs.

West Indies chased down 190 with nine wickets and two Indian spinners in hand.

There has been the brief flirtation with Axar Patel, but he mostly played against Zimbabwe when the mainstay was rested. 11 games, 9 wickets; batting mostly at 7 and 8, his numbers saw him last turn up for India close to a year ago.

Once upon a time, there was the Yusuf Pathan option – he too batted lower down, mostly at 6, 7 and 8 and was at best a part-time bowling option – bowling his full quota in seven of the 17 innings he turned his arm over. Yusuf opened the innings with Gambhir in that first World T20 Final. That was also his first T20I match.

The last time he turned up, the rain impacted both the match and his career. He did not bat, India lost to Duckworth Lewis in 7.1 overs, close to seven years ago.

Which brings us to Krunal Pandya. Elder brother of chat-show Pandya.

And significantly, part of a champion IPL team, the Mumbai Indians. (with so many coaches going, he can only hone his all-round skills)

Krunal turns 28 next month. He’s played just three First Class games so far. However, he’s heaved it in 71 T20s. He made his T20 debut six years back.

In the Hamilton decider, Krunal’s bowling was mauled for 53 runs. It seemed to be predictable hit-me bowling – but then, whenever any bowling is slaughtered, you don’t ask if it halal or jhatka. Either way, it’s slaughtered. And appears clueless, bereft of thought, variations, guile.

Krunal has a bowling economy of 8.72 rpo (almost identical to Yusuf’s). It’s a small sample size, but on evidence, his bowling (not unlike Jadeja’s in T20s and ODIs) does lack imagination – there is a sameness in speed, trajectories, lengths. Once a batsman has his measure, expect an all-out attack.

Which is where the wicket-gifts can happen. Just the other day, his 3/28 gifted him the Man of the match.

Such is the nature of the format that Krunal will have the occasional good days with the ball. To expect him to be the 5th bowler though is a bridge too far. It’s better if he starts as the sixth bowler and splits those four overs with another part-timer.

India was 145/6 after 15.2 overs when Dhoni fell. Kartik and Krunal, the last of the hitting ammunition dump. Krunal added 26(13).

Had India played a bowler instead of Krunal, India’s chase would’ve stopped after Dhoni’s wicket. Question is, would India’s target have been far less?

While Krunal has batted in only four innings for India (strike rate 156.81), it’s his batting numbers in domestic cricket that have pushed him to where he is – here too, his batting average of 27 and strike rate of 147 is uncannily similar to that of Yusuf Pathan’s. There are eight years between the two, but both play for Baroda.

Both are brothers of more illustrious fast bowling all-rounders; both pegged to be the next Kapil Dev.

***

Numbers aside, it’s Krunal Pandya’s obvious hitting ability. It appears to run in the Pandya blood. As too the cricketing smarts.

Only last year in Australia, after being walloped for 55 in Brisbane, he plugged it to just 26 two days later in Melbourne, and helped India square the series with a Man of the match haul in Sydney.  

For now, it might be best not to underestimate Krunal. If there’s a single to be taken, take it. The tail starts after him, not with him.

Then again, this could be a duel best viewed in a KKR vs MI match.

You can bet it will be hyped no end. Expect Krunal to add little to the hype though. He’s not much for a chat.

First published here