‘On national duty’: Hardik Pandya joins Team India ahead of T20 WC opener

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NEW YORK : Star India all-rounder Hardik Pandya joined Team India in New York ahead of their ICC T20 World Cup opening clash against Ireland that will take place on June 5.

The ICC T20 World Cup will be played in the West Indies and the USA from June 1 to 29. The Men in Blue will also play Bangladesh in their only warm-up game on June 1 at Nassau County International Cricket Stadium in New York.

Taking to Instagram on Wednesday, Pandya announced that he is “on national duty” and has joined the Men in Blue ahead of the tournament, training hard in their quest to end the team’s decade-long trophy drought despite consistently great performances in ICC tournaments.

Hardik is coming into the team after a poor Indian Premier League (IPL) 2024 campaign. The ongoing Indian Premier League (IPL) season was one to forget for five-time champions MI and Pandya. They brought back Pandya after a two-year stint with Gujarat Titans (GT), which saw the all-rounder captaining the team to the title in their debut season in 2022. Replacing Rohit Sharma, a five-time IPL-winning captain for the Blue and Gold side, led to massive social media backlash for the all-rounder and franchise. Pandya was booed in stadiums all over India during his matches and the team finished at the bottom of the points table with four wins, 10 losses and eight points. Pandya, who had played a crucial role in the franchise’s success from 2015-21, could not put up match-winning performances.

In 14 matches, Pandya scored 216 runs at an average of 18.00 and a strike rate of 143.04, with the best score of 46. He also took 11 wickets at a poor average of 35.18 and an economy rate of 10.75.

But in Indian colours, fans are expecting the all-rounder to be at his best and overcome all the mental, emotional, and physical baggage that came with a poor IPL season. Hardik’s ability to soak pressure and perform well in big matches, especially against Pakistan, makes him an extremely crucial player for Men in Blue. His batting form and ability to deliver some quality pace will play a big role in deciding how far India goes in the tournament.

In 16 T20 WC matches and 10 innings, Pandya has scored 213 runs at an average of 23.66 and a strike rate of 136.53, with one fifty. He has also taken 13 wickets in the tournament at an average of 25.30 and an economy rate of 9.13, with the best figures of 3/30.

India will start their T20 World Cup campaign on June 5 against Ireland at the newly constructed Nassau County International Cricket Stadium in New York.

Meanwhile, the most-awaited blockbuster clash between India and Pakistan will take place on June 9. They will later play tournament co-hosts USA (June 12) and Canada (June 15) to wrap up their Group A matches.

In the tournament, India will be aiming to end their ICC trophy drought, having last won the ICC Champions Trophy in 2013. Since then, India has reached the 50-over World Cup final in 2023, semifinal in 2015 and 2019, the title clash of the ICC World Test Championship in 2021 and 2023, T20 WC final in 2014, semifinals in 2016 and 2022 but failed to secure a big ICC trophy.

India will be aiming to win their first T20 WC title since they won the inaugural edition of the tournament back in 2007 in South Africa. In the last edition held in Australia in 2022, India lost to England by 10 wickets in the semifinals.

India squad: Rohit Sharma (c), Hardik Pandya (vc), Yashasvi Jaiswal, Virat Kohli, Suryakumar Yadav, Rishabh Pant (wk), Sanju Samson (wk), Shivam Dube, Ravindra Jadeja, Axar Patel, Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Arshdeep Singh, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohd. Siraj

Reserves: Shubman Gill, Rinku Singh, Khaleel Ahmed and Avesh Khan. (ANI)

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