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Putting India in ‘difficult situations’ is Hardik Pandya’s priority as T20I captain – Ind vs SL 2nd T20I

Hardik Pandya is not afraid to put his side in tough situations during bilateral T20Is, where long-term wins are more important than short-term wins – he said that in the toss during the first T20I against Sri Lanka and repeated it after the match.

The record at Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium favored the chasers, who had won 24 of the 41 T20s played there in the previous two years before Tuesday’s game. So it was understandable that Dasun Shanaka chose to field after winning the coin toss.

Hardik, who leads India in Rohit Sharma’s absence, was fine with that. “Frankly, we were going to bat first,” he said at the coin toss. “It’s a hunting ground, but I wanted our team to be challenged. In bilateral matches, we want to put ourselves in more difficult situations than [we] generally [do]. So I’m happy to bat because if we had won the coin toss we would have batted first anyway.”

It’s possible that Hardik was just playing mind games. But it is true that hitting first was the Achilles heel for India in T20Is. They have lost eight matches in multi-team T20I tournaments since March 31, 2016, when they lost to the West Indies in the semi-finals of the T20 World Cup. On all those occasions, they were first to bat.

When Sri Lanka needed 13 from the last over as they chased 163 for the win, Hardik handed the ball to Axar Patel when he had an over left himself. Chamika Karunaratne drew Axar’s third ball for a six to bring the equation back to five from three, but Axar held his nerve and did the job for India.

At the post-match presentation, Hardik was asked why he took that gamble. One reason could be that Hardik was suffering from cramps, but again he talked about challenging the players by creating difficult situations.

“The way I look at all these games is I want to put the team in difficult situations because it’s going to help us in big games,” he said. “Playing bilaterally is something we’re really good at, but this is how we keep challenging ourselves. Yeah, we can lose a game here and there, which is fine, I’m okay with that, because in the long run, it will helping us to be ready for the big games when the opportunity arises.”

Earlier, when India defended an under-par 162, Hardik had set the tone with the ball, putting down three overs in the power play for just 12 runs. Not only did he get the ball away from the right-wing batters, he also swung it back, which was something new.

“Since the time I’ve been back in the [2022] IPL, I’ve bowled into the nets and I’ve only bowled with the new ball,” he said. “I’ve been working on my swing bowling and that [the inswinger] is the new ball I learned.

“I like bowling with the new ball because it allows me to swing the ball and challenge the batsman. If I can get a wicket here and there I can use others.” [seam] bowlers later in the innings.”

It is not known – although there has been some debate – whether Hardik would continue as the Indian T20I captain when Rohit Sharma returns. Still, he was asked if he was getting used to being addressed as captain of India. “Well, yes, sure,” he said with a smile.

Hemant Brar is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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