Hardik Pandya provides balance to team: Virat Kohli

Cricket: Hardik Pandya provides a lot of balance to the team, Indian captain Virat Kohli said on Monday while backing his contribution in all three departments of cricket.

Kohli complimented Pandya, who returned to the ODI squad following the lift of suspension which was imposed in the wake of his misogynistic remarks at a celebrity chat show Koffee with Karan, for the intensity with which the all-rounder bowled.

With a seven-wicket victory in the third ODI, India have taken an unassailable 3-0 lead against hosts New Zealand.

“Good to have him back. He put his head down and focused on what he needed to do. You can tell from the way he bowled with the intensity straightaway picking two crucial wickets as well. He is in good head space, in the right kind of mind frame to perform for the team. I hope he keeps growing with this performance and builds onto this,” Kohli said.

When asked about the impact of Pandya controversy, the Indian captain said in such situations either one is finished or one learns and get motivated and eventually understand there is nothing more important than cricket.

“You put all your energy in preparation and if you respect this game, it will reward you. There is no rocket science that you have to do something extra. But, if such incidents happen then those who come out positive, their entire career takes a different route. We have historically seen this happening with some players. I hope he (Pandya) picks up that path and improves his career and becomes a strong cricketer and I think he can do it,” Kohli said.

In spite of having an upper hand against New Zealand in the ongoing five-match series, Kohli noted that if the Kiwi side went on to have great wins at the league matches of the World Cup then there will be no guarantee that India will have an upper hand. However, the Indian captain wants to continue the winning streak in order to create a momentum and fine tune everything needed as a team for the upcoming prestigious tournament.

“New Zealand are a very strong ODI side. When you play against them like this (in the series), it gives you a lot of confidence as a team. And when you are playing against them again, you can take a lot of confidence from the last time you played them, that is usually how international cricket works. You might have an upper hand in a tournament like this but in the World Cup, you never know what kind of confidence a team is carrying. When you play them, if it is the first game, you can sort of bank on these things. But if they have a great tournament already before playing us and they are in great space then this series is no guarantee that we will have an upper hand against them in the World Cup,” he said.

When asked about the number four position, Kohli said in the last five games – two in Australia, three here (New Zealand) – number four is still something we are looking to solidify.

“When Ambati Rayudu starts playing like this (in the series), you start feeling more confident about the batting line-up. Dinesh Karthik is in great form as well, so he can step in at any time in case we need to shuffle the middle order at any stage. MS (Dhoni) is hitting the ball really well. Everyone is in a good zone. I do not feel after looking at the first three games that we have a lot to worry,” he said.

“Again those 30-40 over period is something that I had said we want to capitalise batting first because when you are chasing, you anyways going after a target that is big. But when batting first, you do not know how much to set, so that is up to two people batting in the middle who is the guy who wants to take that initiative and who is the guy who wants to or has to bat till the end,” Kohli said.

The Indian captain, who will be rested for the last two ODI and subsequent T20I series against New Zealand due to the workload on Kohli over the last few months, expressed his happiness that India have already won the series before his departure but he also pointed out that the intensity of the team will be the same as it is a “team culture now and not necessarily have to do with him. Bowlers are hungry to pick wickets too. Mohammed Shami is running in, Bhuvneshwar Kumar is bowling in good areas, Hardik was really good today and two spinners (Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal) are quality anyway”.

In the absence of Kohli, Rohit Sharma will be at the helm of the squad. India and New Zealand will lock horns in their fourth ODI slated to be held on January 31 at the Seddon Park.