This Surat-born, Baroda-bred all-rounder has wowed cricket aficionados the world over, with Mumbai Indians at the IPL, and of course, as part of Team India. Hardik Pandya had a dazzling debut in IPL in 2015 followed by the T20 World Cup last year. He played T20 against Australia and made his One Day debut against New Zealand the same year. His test career would have taken off against England in 2016 but because of an injury sustained at the nets, he had to wait until this year to make his mark, on the recent Sri Lanka tour. That’s when he set a new record for the most number of runs in an over (26) and also became the first Indian batsman to score a test century before lunchtime!
It’s no wonder then that Pandya has been lauded as the new hope for the Indian team, which, for three decades, has lacked someone who can sizzle as a talented pace bowler as well as blast the ball out of the park at bat since the legendary Kapil Dev. In a short span of time, Pandya has shown that he could just be the all-rounder we’ve been waiting for.
What makes this young gun the hot shot he is? We got a chance to figure him out at our cover shoot, where he showed more swag than your average film star! Playing to the camera comes easy for Pandya. He’s admitted that if he wasn’t a cricketer, he’d probably act. He has a great fashion sense and carries the styles we pick like a dyed-in-the-wool clothes horse. “I love fashion. I have all the brands I can wear. I like to experiment. I can try anything. I’m not hesitant to wear anything... I’ve tried stupid clothes and I’ve tried amazing clothes. Shorts, tracks, jeans... it depends on my mood but I’m fashionable,” he admits, as he turns his smouldering eyes to the camera like a stylish star from the sets of Empire.
Where does he get the swag, we ask Pandya. “I just have it. I don’t need to try. It’s just who I am. I keep asking my parents – ‘Am I really your son? I don’t look like you or act like you!’ I know that I’m different and people are starting to accept that. It’s something to enjoy, to be honest. Everyone can’t be the same. I know someone who has the same birthdate, but is the opposite - Sanjay Bangar, our batting coach. We are poles apart. He’s very calm. I’m expressive, I get angry. I could never be calm like that… I’d fall asleep!” he laughs.
I don’t care about having a reputation for bad attitude. It’s your wish what you want to think about me. I just focus on things I need to focus.
His hairstyle and hair colour are always on point too. Short of shaving his head, he’s ready to try anything! “I do it for myself and I enjoy it,” says the 24-year-old who has had hair colour since he was 13. “If people love it, it’s good. If they don’t, that’s fine too. I’m going to keep this (bleached blond) colour. For people this may be overboard, but not for me. I just keep changing my hairstyle. In fact, I have been experimenting with different looks since I was small. Now, I have Aalimbhai (Hakim Aalim) who has magic in his hands and keeps on trying new stuff with my hair. With him, I know I don’t need to worry. Just the other day, he gave me a haircut and I went to sleep because I knew it would look good on me. It’s not about trusting him but I trust myself!” he laughs. Now that’s confidence!
The belief in self is all-encompassing. His tattoos speak his mind. He got the clock with birds flying on his left forearm when his career first took wing. “It says, ‘Timing is everything’ and signifies how my life changed as I came into the limelight. The 6.49 time on the clock face is significant as it’s the time I was born.” The second one on his upper arm is a tiger with the legend ‘Live to succeed or die trying’, which he got when he was dropped from the team to remind himself to focus and be consistent. The ‘Believe’ on his outer arm and the warrior on his right forearm that says ‘Never give up’ came simultaneously, one after the other on two consecutive days and are his defining mantra in life.
His commitment to the game is evident in every word he utters and every tattoo he bears. When we ask him which format of the game he prefers, he snaps back, “I like CRICKET! I like to play according to the situation. I’m smart enough to understand what format we’re playing. It’s different for each. There will be a time when I will have to bat 50 overs and score 10-15 runs and there will be a time when I have to bat 15 balls and score 50. It’s all about the situation and the mindset... you have to be strong in your head. The amount of cricket we play as a team, we have to switch formats like this (snaps fingers) and adapt to each. We have played all the formats now and we know how to adapt.”
And when we ask him if he ever feels that he’s missing out on the fun that other youngsters his age are having he guffaws, “What more fun can anyone have than me for sure? I don’t think that’s possible! I’m lucky to be doing something which I love. I’ve seen people who may have an amazing job but they don’t love it. It’s a pleasure that I’m playing a sport which I love and is part of my life.” Where does he draw the inner strength from when he plays a match? “I don’t think about it. I’m doing my role which I’m supposed to do. I have to bat, I’ve to bowl, I’ve to field… simple as that. The crowd is there to enjoy the game. I make sure they enjoy,” he is matter-of-fact.
Do comparisons to Kapil Dev put extra pressure on him to perform? “I don’t think about it. It’s people’s point of view. I’m just focusing on what I need to do. It’s sweet that they are thinking so highly about me but in the end, it’s all about playing in the right situation. I know I’m going to play for years. My game will have ups and downs, but it’s very important to be stable in life. It’s important to be myself in my life rather than (basing myself depending on) how my game goes. I’ve been playing cricket since I was six. I’ve understood what really works for me and what does not. It’s very simple. I like to keep things simple,” he shows a maturity beyond his years.
Having achieved so much so soon, what does he aspire to, we wonder. Pandya ponders, “I don’t play for milestones. But yes, in life, I want to be a better person. To be humble, be sweet, be helpful. I’m already like that but there’s always scope for improvement. “You learn in life. I’m young, just 24, but I’ve seen quite a lot in my life. I’m going to be different after four years as well. It’s just a process that you go through.”
We ask him about sibling rivalry with his brother Krunal, also a fellow cricketer. “We are not even one another’s competitors but even if we were, it would never come between us. cricket is a sport and I like to enjoy it. We should never forget that. You’re going to have ups and downs, not just in cricket, but in life,” he avers. Krunal, two and a half years older, in fact, has always been a positive influence in Hardik’s life, intervening when he got into fights as a child, and also being the cricketer in the family who paved the way for his little brother to quit school and don the pads. Their family moved cities so Krunal could join Kiran More’s Cricket academy, which Hardik soon became part of too. Even the friends that he cherishes today, he met through Krunal, Hardik credits.
It’s apparent that there’s a soft heart under that tough guy exterior. He smiles, “I don’t look like it but I’m a family guy! I can’t live without them. I don’t go home much, I stay in Mumbai but I connect to them (regularly) using Facetime. It’s fine because they also understand that this is the time I need to work hard. I can do anything for my family.”
His bad boy image precedes him but he rationalises, “There’s nothing called good or bad attitude, it’s just who you are... what suits you. I don’t care about having a reputation for having a bad attitude. It’s your wish what you want to think about me. I just focus on things I need to focus. Not much else other than my game. Female fans love me and the attention is good but it isn’t something I crave. Let’s be practical, I’m someone who will always get attention no matter what. Whether I do well or not do well, I will always be in the spotlight. I know that and I’ve accepted it. It’s normal now.”
MORE HARD HITS FROM HARDIK
What do you do during your free time?
Chilling, watching Netflix, and sleeping. We train so much that even if we get 6-7 hours free, we like to sleep!
I love buying watches, eyewear and cars. Yeah, I love fast cars
I just have swag! I don’t need to try. It’s just who I am. I know that I’m different and people are starting to accept that.
What cars do you have right now?
Range Rover and a Mini Cooper. I love driving.
When do you drive?
In Mumbai, I drive after 9.30pm. Before that, my driver does.
Where can we spot you?
Near my house in Lokhandwala, Mumbai. There’s a restaurant called Mia that’s opened up close to my house. It belongs to a dear friend of mine. That’s probably the only place you can see me. Or at a movie theatre. Lately I go less, but I love watching good movies, both Bollywood as well as Hollywood. I only like action, I can’t watch a rom-com.
I can eat anything, but it has to be healthy. I don’t get a craving for anything particular.
I know I’m going to play for years. My game will have ups and downs, but it’s very important to be stable in life. It’s important to be myself in my life rather than (basing myself depending on) how my game goes.
I don’t get a high from alcohol so no point wasting it.
PHOTOS ARJUN MARK ❖ STYLING MOHIT RAI ❖ Assistants to the stylist Chandani Mehta & Vedhika Ghotge ❖ HAIR TEAM AALIM HAKIM ❖ MAKE-UP VICKY SALVI ❖ PRODUCTION PACIFIC ❖ TEXT PRIYA PATHIYAN