A hard-earned win for Team India over their arch-rival Pakistan in the Asia Cup came on the back of an inspired performance from a player who had just rediscovered his mojo as an all-rounder. It was payback time for Hardik Pandya as he had been unable to do much in their last meeting when Team India's spotless record in World Cups against Pakistan had been blotted. Three years earlier, he had been stretchered out from the same venue after his back gave way.
It was his bowling, clocking 140-kmph in effort balls, that set up this contest but more crucial was his zen-like presence at the finish in an attritional contest on a surface that tested the batsmen more. It was as if Hardik had taken a Dhoni avatar in picking his favourite spot from where he would get his boundary hits regardless of where the bowler was aiming to pitch the ball. And he met the target with Dhoni's trademark six over long on.
Between emerging as the “Real McCoy” among all-rounders and then dropping off the radar while copping much criticism over his lifestyle and so on because he had to rest one of his two match-winning skills, Hardik put in a stupendous amount of work to strengthen his back so he could bend it again to justify the label of all-rounder. There were others like the wily Bhuvneshwar Kumar who had notched up important wickets but, crucially, Hardik struck Pakistan batsmen's weakest spots with ego-teasing short-pitched balls that lured them to their doom.
There may be wins and losses ahead — normal enough in the rollercoaster word of white ball cricket, particularly of the T20 variety - but what Hardik's second coming as an all-rounder lends Team India is the balance that can tilt the scales decisively. His maturity process had been helped along by a sense of responsibility that subsumed his flamboyance as he was hoisted to the helm of his new IPL team in his home state, Gujarat. It was appropriate then that he should turn in a titanic performance in the emotionally draining atmosphere loaded with frisson in India-Pakistan cricket.