As he got down to plot his return to the Indian team, Hardik Pandya would hit the bed at 9.30pm and wake up at 5am, dedicating the intervening period to win battles against his “own self”.
The 28-year-old allrounder followed this timetable for four months, after which he guided an unfancied Gujarat Titans to a memorable title triumph in only their maiden IPL outing. Soon after that, he made his long-awaited international comeback.
Hardik, who has been managing a long-standing back problem, hadn’t played for India since they dropped out in the group stages of the 2021 T20 World Cup in November. But on Thursday, reprising his usual role as finisher, he looked pretty much like his old self, hitting an unbeaten 31 off just 12 balls against South Africa.
“I was happy,” Hardik told BCCI.tv. “It was more about the battles I won against my own self and a lot of other things as well. Winning the IPL, or even qualifying [for the playoffs] was a big deal for me because a lot of people doubted us,” he said. “A lot of people frowned at us before we started. A lot of people raised a lot of questions. A lot of things were said about me even before I made a comeback.
“But it was never about giving them answers. I’m just proud of the process I followed. No one knows what I went through the six months that I was off. I’ve gotten up at 5 in morning to make sure I train. I slept at 9:30 in the night for four months, so [there was] a lot of sacrifice.
“It was the battle I fought before the IPL. I have always worked hard in my life, and it has always given me the result I wanted.”
Hardik also said the ongoing series against South Africa was the ideal platform for him to get into the groove for the upcoming T20 World Cup, especially since India will look to him to finish an innings, not start one like he did at Titans
“Every series or every game you play is as important as your last,” Hardik said. “So, for me, World Cup is the goal, this is the right platform to get into the rhythm and a lot of cricket is going to come back-to-back. Always being in the rhythm is very important.
“My role will be changed here, I won’t be captain, I won’t be batting higher up the order and guiding through the innings. This will be back to being the Hardik for which I am known.”