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The Krunal Pandya Factor

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Krunal_Pandya_IPL_Mumbai_Indians_India_CricketIf you keep playing like this you will play for India in one and half years.”

These words from Sachin Tendulkar during an IPL season to Hardik Pandya seemingly motivated the all-rounder to step up his game for the big stage. In the time that Tendulkar predicted, Pandya was in the Indian side. The hard hitting Baroda all-rounder has time and again stressed how those words had instilled confidence in him and pushed him to perform harder.

Going by recent trends, it is a pity that Krunal, the unheralded elder Pandya brother, didn't get a similar compliment. Based on evidence from the IPL, Krunal seems every bit a utility player as Hardik. With three excellent seasons behind him and India lacking all-round options since they dumped Yuvraj Singh, it is a surprise that Krunal's inclusion in the side took so long.

India were quick to replace Washington Sundar with Krunal as soon as the youngster was injured in England. Krunal, playing with the A side in the same country, was a feasible, easily accessible option but his inclusion was much more than just that.

He has played three IPL seasons thus far, each time making an impact with bat, ball or both.

 

Season

Matches

Runs

Batting average

Wickets

Economy

2016

12

237

39.5

6

7.57

2017

13

243

34.71

10

6.82

2018

14

228

22.8

12

7.07

 

But what stands out with Krunal, and what possibly got him into the team, is his flexibility. He has floated around the Mumbai Indians batting line-up, moving about freely and contributing each time. He hits a boundary every 5.1 balls which makes him a valuable batting option at any position. He is economical whenever he bowls and manages to outfox the best of batsmen with his variations in pace and angle. A case in point would be his success against AB de Villiers.

All said and done, Krunal was a perfect fit in the Mumbai Indians side. But can he be as useful in the Indian T20 side?

This is where it gets tricky. The current Indian T20I side is jam-packed with superstars. Even finding a place for the centurion from the first T20I against England, KL Rahul, has been a tough process. Fitting Krunal in could prove trickier, particularly with Suresh Raina back in the setup. Comparing Krunal and Raina could be a case of apples and oranges but here, in this Indian team, it makes perfect sense.

If India decide to persist with the two openers - Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma – followed by KL Rahul, Kohli will come in at 4 which leaves no room for anyone else in the top four. Dhoni and Hardik Pandya complete six of the top seven spots. This leaves one slot in the middle-order which is a toss up between Suresh Raina, Manish Pandey and Dinesh Karthik at the moment.

What aids Raina is that he can chip in with a few overs if things go ugly. And the probability of things going ugly is high, given that Hardik Pandya is their fifth bowler. Hardik's economy rate for India in T20Is is 7.98, but this is mostly due to playing on helpful surfaces for bowling or against weak opposition. Analyse his T20 numbers in the IPL and one can see that his IPL economy is just over nine an over.

Hardik could definitely be an enticing option with the ball on surfaces that offer bounce but the chances of him going for runs can never truly be neglected. Add the fact that Yuzvendra Chahal has also leaked runs outside the sub-continent and you have a T20 line-up where there is a genuine risk of playing just five bowlers.

This is where Krunal could be massively useful. Raina can obviously chip in with a few overs, but Krunal could do better. Batting at 5 after a formidable top four means that more often than not, you get very little time in an innings. Before IPL 2018, Krunal Pandya was among the fastest off the blocks in the shortest format of the game. In the first 10 balls he faces in an innings, Krunal strikes at a whopping rate of 141.5, comparable to the likes of Andre Russell, Jos Buttler and Chris Morris.

With Dhoni ready to step up in the batting order, he could play at 5 and Krunal can slot in at 6 to finish off the innings. The no.7 spot can be a toss up between Hardik Pandya and Dinesh Karthik, although it has to be said that Karthik's recent form means it is almost cruel to keep him out of the XI.

The World Cup is looming but Krunal’s role in List A cricket is questionable given his high-impact-less-duration role in T20s. For the World T20 in 2021, as per the new Future Tours Programme, Krunal Pandya could be quite a handful, particularly if he is given a chance to grow into his role like at Mumbai Indians.

Can we please talk about the elder Pandya brother?

 

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