ICC Twenty20 World Cup: Want Hardik Pandya to come good, he has gone through a lot, says Harbhajan

Hardik Pandya endured a forgettable IPL both as captain and player with his team Mumbai Indians ending bottom of the heap in the points table.

Updated - June 02, 2024 02:29 pm IST

Published - May 28, 2024 02:52 pm IST - Chennai

Mumbai Indians captain Hardik Pandya reacts after being dismissed during an IPL match. FIle

Mumbai Indians captain Hardik Pandya reacts after being dismissed during an IPL match. FIle | Photo Credit: PTI

Former India off-spinner Harbhajan Singh has nothing but empathy for Hardik Pandya as he navigates a challenging phase in his career and is hopeful that the all-rounder, who "hasn't been a free man in the last two months", will become one during next month's T20 World Cup.

Pandya endured a forgettable IPL both as captain and player with his team Mumbai Indians ending bottom of the heap in the points table. What made things worse was the incessant jeering of fans whenever he took the field, including at MI's home turf — the Wankhede Stadium.

Also read | ICC Twenty20 World Cup 2024: full schedule, dates and venues

But Harbhajan expects the tide to turn in the Americas during the T20 showpiece.

"When he wears that blue jersey, he will be a different Hardik Pandya because we know he can score those runs and take those wickets. I want Hardik to come good as he has gone through a lot and I wish him all the very best to have a very good tournament for India," Harbhajan told PTI in an exclusive interview.

"If he has a good tournament, obviously India will have a great chance to go forward," he said.

"Yes, his form is a bit of a concern...and lot of other stuff was going on around him, his shifting from Gujarat to Mumbai, was a big change and the team (MI) didn't react too well to Hardik coming back and that too as captain," the 43-year-old added.

The reason for the fan backlash against Pandya was MI's decision to hand him the captaincy after taking it away from the long-serving Rohit Sharma.

There was speculation throughout the season that MI's dressing room was a divided house due to the change of guard. Rohit will now captain the national side with Pandya as his deputy in the World Cup starting June 1.

Harbhajan, a multi format World Cup-winner, urged the team management to bring Pandya and Rohit on "same page".

"...it looked like they (MI) were not playing together as a team. So there was a lot going on. Hardik wasn't a free man in the last two months. I believe both of them and many others who have played in different teams will have to come together to do something special for the nation...," he said.

"Winning a World Cup is a bigger achievement than winning an IPL trophy, so I would urge the management to bring everyone together, have them on one page and make sure they play like one.

"I believe it's the responsibility of the management to come together, and win together. Even if they lose they should be losing together."

Bumrah will need support

Jasprit Bumrah is the only speedster among the chosen three (the other two being Arshdeep Singh and Mohammed Siraj), who doesn't need conditions to be successful, feels Harbhajan.

"Pace attack definitely could be a concern because because Bumrah is in a different league for the kind of bowler he is. He will win you games on any kind of pitch. He doesn't need conditions whereas other bowlers like Arshdeep and Siraj would need help from conditions.

"If there's bounce, Siraj might do well. He is tall, can also swing it both ways, hits the deck hard and has got pace. But if wickets are slow then the challenge begins for other bowlers.

"There will be lot of responsibility on Bumrah's shoulders but I hope other guys also take responsibility to be someone special."

IPL performances won't matter

Harbhajan said IPL form would make no difference to the players' fortunes in the ICC showpiece.

"No matter what you have done in your IPL career or previously, this is what counts the most...if I was in their shoes, I would be looking for this opportunity to showcase that I have been better than what I have been doing," the 'Turbanator' stated.

Virat is a changed T20 batter

Harbhajan was mighty impressed with how Virat Kohli tweaked his T20 game during this year's IPL by adding shots to his repertoire, which drastically improved his strike rate.

"Virat has shown a lot of improvement from last year to this year and people spoke about his strike rate. It was in 130s during last year and this time it is in 160s," he said.

"Of course it's a big big change. Virat and Rohit will have to score quickly in Powerplay but also need to respect the conditions in USA and West Indies."

If Gambhir becomes coach

Harbhajan doesn't know whether Gautam Gambhir, who is being spoken of as the favourite to take over India's head coach position from the outgoing Rahul Dravid, will get the job but he does believe it would be a crown of thorns for whoever chooses to wear it.

"If I say it properly, it is a speculation, which is doing rounds...the biggest thing a coach can do is to bring everyone together, so that team plays together. So, whether Gautam becomes coach or Ashish Nehra, or whosoever gets the opportunity, hope they do better than what others before them did." He also ruled himself out of the race.

"I don't think I will be able to give that much time. At this stage of my life I have a young family and I need to be around them and look after them. Yes, when the right time comes, I will put my foot forward and say I am ready for it," he concluded.

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