The Rise of Krunal Pandya

IPL final, 2017 - Mumbai have lost three early wickets against Pune. Krunal Pandya walks in and he has his captain Rohit Sharma at the other end. Soon, the skipper departs too. Kieron Pollard quickly follows suit. Krunal is now carrying a mountain of responsibility on his shoulders. How does he respond? The only way he knows how, with a brilliant match-winning knock of 47, that too in a low-scoring game! Such was the importance of the knock that he emerged the top-scorer for Mumbai as they went on to lift a record third title. Krunal Pandya is a crunch situation player. In his two-year stint with the Mumbai Indians so far, he has played many crucial knocks which have taken the team home. After his success over the years, he caught the attention of the national selectors and he was picked for the India ‘A’ tour.

The elder Pandya brother, who was born in Ahmedabad, moved to Baroda and started playing cricket. Like other promising players, he wanted to make it big. His dream almost came to a standstill when he injured his shoulder and had to make a comeback after almost two years. His younger brother Hardik Pandya was the talking point in Mumbai’s title-winning season in 2015. Krunal was picked up by Mumbai in the February 2016 auction for a whopping 2 crores. Mumbai Indians are known to give opportunities to players who eventually make it to the big leagues, and Krunal Pandya is another shining example.

Krunal joined the Kiran More Academy in Baroda and was touted as a promising player. His adaptability was his forte, as was seen on various occasions for Mumbai. Jitender Singh, his other coach from Baroda knew he could make it big if he focussed on his game. Krunal started doing so and eventually reaped rewards. Together with younger brother and fellow teammate Hardik, the Pandya brothers very evidently love playing cricket! For them, it had always been a dream to play together in front of a big audience. IPL and Mumbai Indians provided them the platform. “It was our dream to play at a good level, and we are playing for Mumbai Indians. Such an honour for us!” says Krunal.

The Vijay Hazare Trophy in 2016/17 was a memorable one for Krunal. He had a prolific season as he was the top-scorer for Baroda with 366 runs under his belt at an average of 45.75. In his debut season for Mumbai, Krunal bagged his first Man of the Match award in the game against Royal Challengers Bangalore. Against a strong batting line-up, with the likes of Gayle, Kohli, de Villiers and Watson, Krunal returned with figures of 1/15 in his 4 overs. He was extremely miserly with the ball and was adjudged the Man of the Match. He picked up the big wicket of AB de Villiers and made his tally 2 out of 2 against him in the season.

In the match against Delhi Daredevils, Mumbai got off to a decent start. Skipper Rohit Sharma got out in the very next over of the Powerplay, and in walked Krunal Pandya. Everyone was surprised with this move. What they witnessed later was a career-best 86-run knock by Krunal, off just 37 balls, which included 7 fours and 6 sixes. Krunal Pandya announced himself as not just a bowler who can keep it tight, but also a very capable batsman, who can get those runs at a quick rate. In the same season, Krunal kept his record against AB de Villiers intact. On both occasions this year, he got the big wicket of de Villiers and made his overall tally 4-0 against the dangerous batsman. AB de Villiers is one of Krunal’s favourite players, and he knows how much it means to keep getting his wicket.

Krunal bagged two Man of the Match awards in his first 11 IPL games. Performing so well at such a stage was just the start. For a player, the second season invariably gets tougher. To continue the promise you’ve shown, execute plans, it just means you have added responsibilities on your shoulders. But Krunal continued working hard, and it paid rich dividends.

In this year’s IPL, Krunal Pandya was consistent with the bat and ball. The all-rounder scored 243 valuable runs with the bat at a strike rate of 135.75 and took 10 crucial wickets with the ball at an economy rate of just 6.82. He played an important inning along with Kieron Pollard against RCB in an away game when Mumbai had lost early wickets. That partnership turned out to be a match-winning one for Mumbai and reiterated the belief amongst the support staff that they could bank on the all-rounder.

In the Playoffs, Krunal was at his best, especially in crunch games, when he stepped up and responded on the field. In the second Qualifier against the Kolkata Knight Riders, he was the top-scorer of the match as he took the team home with his unbeaten knock of 45 runs off just 30 balls. In the final, his knock was extremely important for Mumbai to get near the 130-run mark in a game which gave the island city its record title, by a margin of just 1 run.

Rohit Sharma doesn’t hesitate in praising the youngster. “I think he has got something about him, he knows his bowling really well and he understands the conditions really well, so it makes my job easier as a captain.”

With Hardik Pandya already being in the limelight in Mumbai’s title-winning season in 2015, it was Krunal Pandya’s turn this year. Hardik and Krunal Pandya are also the first pair of brothers to play for an IPL team.

Krunal’s rise has seen rapid growth. He is only going to get better with the way he takes his game seriously. He has had a terrific year so far that has caught everyone’s attention, and he has been given an opportunity in the India ‘A’ squad. When responsibilities are placed on his shoulders, he takes them up happily and brings out his best. The same is expected from him on this South African A tour.

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