GALLE: All-rounder Hardik Pandya has the potential to become India’s Ben Stokes and improve the balance of the side, captain Virat Kohli said after the 23-year-old’s encouraging Test debut in the win against Sri Lanka.
England’s Stokes is widely regarded the best fast-bowling all-rounder in the world with his match-winning prowess with both bat and ball.
“When you play away from home, one guy [all-rounder] gives you a lot of balance, and I think Hardik can be that guy going ahead, specially playing so much cricket away from home,” Kohli told reporters after India’s 304-run win on Saturday.
“If he grows in confidence — you see someone like Ben Stokes, what he does for England. Brings in great balance as an all-rounder. I see no reason why Hardik Pandya can’t become that for India.”
In his first innings in Tests, Pandya scored 50 off 49 deliveries, his knock studded with five fours and three sixes.
The medium paceman took one wicket in Sri Lanka’s first innings but looked more dangerous during a hostile spell in the second when he peppered the hosts’ batsmen with short deliveries.
“In the first innings, he didn’t get the opportunity to bowl much but I think in the second innings, he bowled really nicely on a wicket that wasn’t offering much and he kept it in the right areas,” Kohli said. “He used the bouncer well. He bowls around 135kph, when he bends his back he can go higher. So he is a great asset and I have mentioned this before as well.
“And specially his batting … He got 50 quickly and that saves you time as well. That gives you another 15 overs to bowl at the opposition. And his fielding is also tremendous.”
Pandya is already a regular feature of India’s limited-overs side and Kohli backed the all-rounder to shine in the red-ball format and in all conditions.
“I have a lot of faith in him as far as any format is concerned,” said the India skipper. “Test cricket, he has got the technique. He is a really good batsman.
“You might not look at it precisely but we understand how much he can bring to the table, and I surely have a lot of faith in him that he will be able to perform on any surface on which he plays.”
Meanwhile, India’s big win in Galle has left Kohli with a ‘massive’ yet welcome headache as he ponders his team selection for the next match.
The tourist’s top order batsmen fared well, with Shikhar Dhawan making 190 in the first innings and fellow opener Abhinav Mukund contributing a quickfire 81 in the second.
Cheteshwar Pujara also blasted 153 in the first innings while Kohli chipped in with an unbeaten 103 in the second.
The success of the top four batsmen however leaves Kohli and coach Ravi Shastri with a dilemma ahead of the second Test, starting in Colombo on Thursday.
Regular opener Lokesh Rahul missed the match in Galle because he was suffering from the flu but is expected to be available for the next game, meaning someone has to miss out.
“Yes, it’s a very tricky situation,” Kohli admitted. “We’ve got all four openers firing now. Shikhar was supposed to go to Melbourne, now he’s got a 190 in Galle. So, anything can happen in life.
“It’s a massive headache but I guess a good one. You know, eventually guys understand that only two can take the field and at most two or three openers make the squad.”
Kohli was careful not to pre-empt any picks and hoped whoever missed out would not be too disappointed.
“We’ll have to eventually take a call on who plays in the next Test and I’m sure the third guy will understand whatever the call is taken by the team,” Kohli said.
Dhawan was a late inclusion for the series opener, replacing the injured Murali Vijay, but made the most of his chance with his career-high 190.
“My plans were to go to Melbourne and spend time with my family, do training and get fit for the one-day series,” he said. “I was in Hong Kong actually on holiday and from there I flew back to India and joined the team. That was my plan and I think destiny had a different plan for me.”
Kohli was also happy with the bowlers’ performance, particularly Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja.
The Galle pitch favoured batting, with India piling on 600 and 240-3, but the Indians twice bowled out the home side for less than 300.
“We are able to capitalise in those situations and really put more pressure on the opposition,” Kohli said.
“I would say that we really executed our plans well to force the opposition to make mistakes regularly.”