DUBAI: Star India all-rounder Hardik Pandya considers the ongoing T20 World Cup the biggest responsibility of his career as a finisher because “everything is on my shoulders” in the absence of “life coach and brother” Mahendra Singh Dhoni from the playing line-up.
In an interview to ‘ESPNcricinfo’s Cricket Monthly’, the 28-year-old superstar, whose fitness is a concern heading into the event as he did not bowl in the IPL, spoke about the many challenges of his life, his acceptance of the not-so-perfect self and the extraordinary bond he shares with Dhoni.
This would be India’s first World Cup campaign since Dhoni retired in 2020 and the side will open its campaign against Pakistan on October 24 here. Dhoni has been appointed the team’s mentor for the mega-event.
“The biggest so far, I will say, because this time I don’t have Mahendra Singh Dhoni. Everything is on my shoulders – I like to think that way because it gives me an added challenge. It is going to be exciting, a cracker of a tournament,” he said.
Speaking of Dhoni, a fiercely private person whose life outside cricket is as enigmatic as his persona on the field, Pandya said the two-time World Cup-winning captain is someone he turns to in times of adversity, turmoil and even to understand his own mind.
“MS was someone who understood me from the start: how I function, what kind of a person I am, what are the things I don’t like, everything,” he said.
Pandya recalled how Dhoni reached out to him on his return to the side during the tour of New Zealand in 2019 after a suspension for some sexist remarks on a TV show.
“…initially there were no hotel rooms (for Pandya in New Zealand). But then I get a call, saying, “You just come. MS has told us, ‘I don’t sleep on the bed. He will sleep on my bed and I will sleep on the floor.'”
“He (Dhoni) was the first person who has been always there. He knows what kind of an individual I am. He knows me quite deep. I am very close to him. He is the only person who can make me calm.
“When all this (the TV remarks controversy) happened, he knew that I needed support. I just needed a shoulder, which he provided multiple times in my cricketing career. I never saw him as MS Dhoni the greatest. For me, Mahi is my brother,” he asserted.
Rashid Khan picks Virat Kohli and Hardik Pandya in his top-five T20 players Pandya said there are times when he struggles to understand his own thoughts and it is Dhoni who comes to his rescue.
“…I have to call him and say, “Yeh soch rahan hoon, kya chal raha hai, batao.” (This is on my mind. What do you think?) Then he will explain. So, yes, in a lot of ways he is a life coach.
“Staying with him, obviously, you learn to be mature, you learn to become humble,” he elaborated.