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Cricket news - How to stop a rampaging Hardik Pandya?

Hardik Pandya stroked a breezy 8-ball 25* against CSK

"The yorkers are still pretty good," said a straight-faced Stephen Fleming when quizzed about a possible plan of defence against a marauding Hardik Pandya. The yorker is trending after all. It's been only a few days since Kagiso Rabada gave it the most emphatic of validations in a Super Over face-off against Andre Russell.

But Fleming was speaking here having seen his plan fail. His bowlers, Dwayne Bravo in particular, had stuck to it and seen Pandya strike the ball to the upper tiers of the Wankhede Stadium. But the former Kiwi captain wasn't to blame here. Nor was Bravo. For in the world of T20, big bats and bigger strikers, the yorker at times can be reduced to a 50-50 option, with a very small risk-to-reward ratio. As Pandya and Russell - when not facing Rabada - have demonstrated in this IPL season, there's a fine difference between a yorker and an almost-yorker, and invariably in the death overs of a T20 game, that difference is six runs.

Chennai Super Kings are not the first team to concede as many as 29 runs in the final over when Pandya's been on strike. He'd smashed 30 off Ashoke Dinda against Rising Pune Supergiant in 2017, turning in the span of an over, a below-par total into an above-par one just like he did here on Wednesday.

MS Dhoni, who had a ring side seat to that clean-hitting from behind the stumps back then, may have had reason to be optimistic of a better result here. Bravo, despite his slightly waning skills, has earned his stripes bowling these kinds of overs and possesses the aforementioned yorker - both the fast and the dipping slow kinds.

Unlike Dinda in that Pune game, Bravo didn't use the last over here to test out different areas of the pitch. He zeroed in on the base of the middle stump with his first ball to Pandya. He missed his mark by the smallest of margins and the Mumbai Indians all-rounder, waiting for this very tiny indiscretion in length, used his wrists to dispatch that near-yorker into the stands behind mid-wicket. Ever the showman, he finished the shot with an exaggerated flourish of the arms and turned around, almost as if he was seeking commendation from the helicopter shot's original proprietor.

Bravo didn't drag back his length, but instead attempted a minor course-correction of his lines. He went wider outside off-stump for the next two deliveries - the final two of the innings - and ended up conceding 10 more runs as Pandya opened his wrists to bludgeon the ball behind square on the off-side.

Hardik may not be tall and a strapping athletic specimen like Russell, but he's adopted a notoriously similar hitting style that matches the Jamaican for efficacy. It is perhaps not a surprise that they are the only two batsmen in the league to be striking at over 200. Pandya camps deep in his crease, takes guard on middle and off stump and almost dares you to attempt bowling the yorker.

He doesn't press forward and instead counter-intuitively presses back and remains deadly still, to open up several hitting options. This transfer of weight to the back foot and the guard unlock new zones in his hitting range and the wide ball outside off, which Dinda had used for his only dot in that over two years ago, is no longer an attractive counter-defensive. The depth created by the original stance also sets him up to deal with slower balls, allowing his long levers a monumental swing towards cow corner.

"Power-hitting is about awareness and an understanding of how your body is moving," Dean Jones had told Cricbuzz in an interview. "Contrary to popular perception, it's not about generating force through the hand but the footwork and the hip pivot that transfer momentum to the hands. It is very important to de-clutter footwork and free the batsman up to open new angles".

How then does one stop a rampaging Pandya? A left-arm fast bowler angling the ball across is a viable option, for it also brings the exposed leg stump in play if Hardik continues to stay on middle and off to play the angle. Alternatively, one would need an express quick bowler to get the ball under the bat or through his legs as Rabada did to Russell. Unfortunately for Dhoni and CSK, neither option - David Willey and Lungi Ngidi - are available this season.

"Looks like he's [Hardik] got a good thing with what he's doing at the death. Now the plan is for the other teams to try and combat that. We were happy with what we were trying to do but we just executed poorly," Fleming said. He's right, for it's up to the bowlers now to find a way of stopping Pandya. He's not leaving the back of the crease any time soon. And he's waiting for them.

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