Hardik Pandya sits on a boundary board
Sandeep Shetty / © BCCI

Talking Cricket

Hardik Pandya: 'When I am on the ground, I believe nothing's impossible. I don't feel fear'

The allrounder talks about his IPL relationships, some of his key innings, what money means to him, and his life coach, MS Dhoni

Interview by Nagraj Gollapudi  |  

From living out of a matchbox-sized apartment in Baroda, to owning luxurious houses there and in Mumbai, Hardik Pandya has, in his own words, progressed "leaps and bounds". As a teen, Hardik would travel to towns and villages in Gujarat to get paid a few hundred rupees to play cricket. In 2018, Mumbai Indians forked out Rs 11 crore (about US$1.6 million) to retain him in the IPL. On and off the cricket field Hardik's has been an eventful journey - over the course of which he has realised dreams millions aspire to but rarely fulfil. In this conversation, before the second leg of the 2021 IPL began in the UAE, he looks back at how far he has come.

"Itni badhiya santan aap ne paida kar di hain. Bharat ka naam roshan kar diya" [You have created such great offspring - they have brought glory to the name of the country] Amitabh Bachchan said to your dad at a gathering to celebrate Mumbai Indians winning the 2017 IPL. Do you and your brother, Krunal, look back and talk about that moment?
Yes, multiple times. When Amit sir came, he asked for us first. Someone came and said: "Mukesh sir [Ambani, owner of Mumbai Indians] is calling because Amit ji wants to meet you guys. I took our father as well. He was blushing. I could see his watery eyes - he was not crying, but just when you get overwhelmed and overawed.

It was one of those memories which I and Krunal will always remember of our father being so proud. Amitabh Bachchan, the legend, is asking for you. There were bigger people than us there, but he is greeting us first, and saying that to our father. My father must have told 1000 people about that incident.

There have been other times. Mukesh sir said to him once: "Don't worry about your children, they are my children now."

My father's heart must have been flooded with so many emotions because of the kind of struggles he had. He had seen a lot of ups and downs. I always tell people, now that I am a father, what he did for us at that age - for him to leave everything [Pandya senior moved the family from Surat to Baroda in the mid-1990s, so Krunal could join Kiran More's cricket academy] and to focus on his sons so they could achieve something in their lives… if I have to take a call right now to leave everything - by all means I love my son, but that will be a very, very challenging call.

For you to now be rubbing shoulders with billionaire owners, mega stars, and being famous yourself - how does it feel?
I will not change for anything. Being someone who is known is not easy, but I worked hard for this. I am pretty happy.

A lot of times I have met people who I always thought are just very far from Hardik and Krunal's [world], but when we get the opportunity to meet them, the kind of respect we get is something we are very proud of. More than anything, it is just that respect, the kind of conversations I can have with lots of people.

Our constant effort has been to become better human beings. And in that process, I have realised people like good human beings. We are not perfect but we are improving day by day. Cricket is there, but the main priority is to become a better human being.

How aware have you been of these changes in your life?
Firstly, financially we got a little stable. That was a big change for us more than anything else. I kind of got fame pretty quickly, I must say - I did not get a lot of time to cope with it. It was literally, like, from zero to 100.

I accept my flaws or I give myself that benefit of doubt that, okay, you were young. The early two years [of my career], maybe I was little here, little there, but we were a close family. There is absolutely one thing clear in our family: if I'm wrong means I'm wrong; there's no sugarcoating. That makes us a strong family because everyone can have an opinion. Krunal and I leave Hardik Pandya the cricketer and Krunal Pandya the cricketer outside the house. In our family if someone is flying, they make sure to pull them down.

You posted on social media about the days when you would jump on a truck on highways in Baroda and pay Rs 10 for a ride to play cricket matches in villages.
I uploaded that truck picture because I cherish the memories. I enjoy looking at myself and where I am standing and where I was. I would not change 1% also, and because of all those moments, I respect my good days more.

Our family sits down together at least three times a month, and that has been a routine, where some topic comes up about life, and we make sure we remember those [difficult] days the way we value the good days. So the balance always stays when the ups and downs come.

Play 06:02

'MS is the only person who can keep me calm'

Can you talk about your house in Baroda in, say, 2014, and Mumbai now?
When we came to Baroda, our house would have been about 50 square feet, and four of us lived there. I am not exaggerating. We still have that house - one bedroom-kitchen. The kitchen would be the size of a small washroom. People keep asking us brothers how did we brothers grow tall so fast. We did not have a lot of space, but we had a monkey bar in the house and I used to hang upside down on it, do all sort of things.

Now we have a home theatre. I have a gym inside my house, because I am very private and don't step out much anymore. I have created a shoot room. Natasa [Stankovic, Hardik's wife] loves to dance, so we have a dancing space.

Is it accurate to say that though you come across as flamboyant, you and your family actually lead a simple life?
Absolutely. All the things I like are my passion - might be watches, might be cars. The love for cars comes from my dad. At one point, before I was born, he had 22 cars. Long ago my father gave me a Maruti 800, which cost him around Rs 11,000 then.

We live a very simple life now, everyone is under one roof. During the lockdown [in 2020] we had nearly 20 people in the house. Mine and Krunal's goals have always been: if we are growing, we make sure everyone grows.

In 2015 your life changed when John Wright scouted you for Mumbai Indians. Did the franchise owners come to see you at the trials?
In the 2013-14 Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 tournament, Zak [Zaheer Khan] was playing for Mumbai against Baroda, along with others like Surya [Suryakumar Yadav], PT [Pravin Tambe], Aditya Tare, Dhawal Kulkarni, who were in the eyes of franchises. Kiran sir [More] had spoken to John Wright about us two brothers. John was always there for all the games as he was a scout. Akash [Ambani, Mumbai Indians' owner] came with Rahul Sanghvi [Mumbai Indians' manager] and one more MI person. There's a saying in Hindi: Jungle mein mor naacha kisne dekha? [if a peacock dances in a forest, did one anyone see it?] With me, that's not been the case - whenever I have danced, someone has watched. I scored 82 not out.

Yeah, John played a very, very big part because he actually showed the owners that this guy is there. I don't get to speak to John a lot but the last time I met him, I thanked him again. I appreciate people who have stood by me and I don't forget them - at the end of the day if you have helped with Rs 5 or if you have helped with your time, Hardik and Krunal never forget that.

What did he say to you the last time you met?
He is very happy to see us grow, more than just as cricketers. No one would have imagined that we would be standing here. I mean, if someone would have said six years back, "Hardik, you will be standing in this position, beautiful family, stability in life", I would have said, "Please don't joke."

In 2018 you were retained by Mumbai for Rs 11 crore (then US$1.7 million approx). Quite a far way from being bought at your base price of Rs 10 lakhs (about $16,000) in 2015.
I got picked at ten lakhs, right? Next year, a couple of cricketers, I won't name them, came and told me: "Hardik, you deserve six-seven crores now." Because I had played for India and I was the only allrounder going around at that point.

I was like, it's fine. My brother is making Rs 2 crore, I am picked for MI for Rs 10 lakhs, but from my brand [endorsements] and as an India player, I was [still] making about two crore. So we are stable. When I got 11 crore and Krunal got nine crore [after both brothers were retained in 2018 by Mumbai] - so 20 crore - we were very much neutral and grounded. It didn't excite us that much. Obviously we were happy, but it didn't change a lot of things. We were still the same as before, but with money there was stability.

With all the money on offer in the IPL, do you think it can be a distraction for the players, who might start thinking they deserve a certain amount at auctions?
You need a strong head to understand what is happening. I and Krunal were very strong-headed, so we were able to accept the fact that money is there, but we make sure we never lift a foot off the ground. It might come across like I am flying and all that, but I know at the end of the day, my foot is always on the ground.

Money is good, bro. It changes a lot of things. I am one of those examples. Otherwise I would be working at a petrol pump. I am not joking. For me, my family was the priority, to make sure my family has a good life. In 2019 I had a conversation with someone who was saying, money should not be there for "you all young guys". I disagreed.

When a guy from a village or a small town gets a big contract, he does not keep it for himself, he is looking after his parents, he is looking after his relatives. Money makes the difference. And it gives motivation as well. There is a misconception that people should not talk about money. I don't believe in that, because you are passionate about sport and money matters as well. I do not know how many people will play cricket if money is not there.

Go bro:

Go bro: "When I got 11 crore [from the IPL] and Krunal got nine crore, we were very much neutral and grounded. We were still the same as before, but with money there was stability" Vipin Pawar / © BCCI

But in our lives, money is not everything. Money matters, but we are not money-minded. We make money, yes. If it goes, we will make it again. If we don't make it, still fine. You secure yourself in terms of keeping your money safe by taking the right calls. That's why whenever I speak to any youngster, I tell them: enjoy life, but make sure you are securing your future, because it is very easy to live a lavish life for five years and then struggle.

Mumbai Indians have given you a lot. What would you say is the most special thing they have done for you?
They stood by me during my lows and highs. Recently when my dad passed away [in January 2021], I and Krunal got a letter from Mukesh sir and Nita ma'am [Ambanis] giving their condolences. For us it was very emotional. I started crying. My father would have been so happy. He loved fame, all the attention.

Akash has been a tremendous friend. I never get the vibe that he is the owner of our team and he is our boss.

Tell us a bit about Akash Ambani the team owner.
He has more stats knowledge than myself. He will know stats about any cricketer you name. He watches every single game around the world. He can make the opposition team's XI as well - he is that aware. Whenever we play a practice match, even if he is not at the ground, he watches from home - he is that invested.

Does it add pressure when your owner is personally interested in each player?
Nah. He is too sweet, bro. In 2020, I promised him that we are going to get three titles [in a row in the IPL]. He said, let's get this first [win the 2020 IPL]. I said we are going to get 2020, for sure.

That brings us to self-belief and self-confidence. You strut on the cricket field and you can walk the ramp at a fashion show. How does that come to you?
It is just the confidence in my skills. I have a lot. It comes because I am a very process-oriented person, not success-oriented. Process matters. Am I working hard? Am I making sure I am looking after my body? Am I making sure I am looking after all my skills?

Yes, boss:

Yes, boss: "He [Akash Ambani, Mumbai Indians team owner, right] knows stats about any cricketer you name. He watches every single game around the world" Arjun Singh / © BCCI

The confidence part is simply from where I have come in life. I don't have anything to lose when I go on the field. I don't have anything to prove to anybody. When I walk in, I always feel I have an aura, which is for me to feel I belong there. I feel like I am the king there. When I go to bat, I think they [opposition] are like, "Now he's going to do something". That gives me confidence.

I don't like easy situations. I love to be that guy who feels his best in a difficult situation. That confidence has come with time, acceptance of who I am, what I am, how I function.

In the last two years I have started this new thing - if I score a zero, I will celebrate. I will celebrate because of simply one reason: that I have seen good days in my life. How can I value those good days more? I never celebrate on my good days.

Would you say seeking attention might be a way of making yourself feel confident?
I don't seek attention, but I get attention because of who I am. If I go to the crease, because of the kind of cricketer I am, they have to keep an eye on me because they know that if this guy clicks, he can take the game away. I am aware of that, but it never shows in my personality, in my behaviour or in my way of talking.

Many top athletes use body language as a mask - take Cristiano Ronaldo, Novak Djokovic, Virat Kohli. You too behave as if you are in charge of the situation, whether you are struggling or bossing it. Is that a conscious change you have worked into your game? And how does it help?
Actually the starting point of the change was in 2016. I had a very ordinary IPL - the worst IPL I ever had. It is not that I was not batting well. I was the highest run scorer in Syed Mushtaq Ali that year. I was batting at No. 3 and scored 377. No one had scored more in a single Syed Mushtaq Ali [the record has been broken many times since]. At the time all the senior guys were coming and saying: you need to focus on cricket, don't be so flamboyant and all that. So when I got out early in the first few [IPL] games, I was thinking: Now what are people going to say? In that way the whole season passed.

Pandya felt like he was being written off after he was suspended for his remarks on a talk show in 2019.

Pandya felt like he was being written off after he was suspended for his remarks on a talk show in 2019. "It taught me how the world functions. I came out of the bubble a smarter and wiser Hardik" Gareth Copley / © ICC/Getty Images

One day I was called back to practice [by the Mumbai Indians management]. It was an optional practice. I had already practised a lot, so I took a break. I just got emotionally drained. People saw me crying at the ground with Ricky [Ponting, Mumbai head coach at the time]. When Krunal saw me, he told me: "Be yourself. If you want to do anything, do it." After that, slowly the momentum started. And from 2019, it was more that I kind of arrived.

The mask - I do it for the opponent. If I am on the field, I am the best. I give myself the best opportunity to perform, because if I am not confident, how can I execute my plans? So no matter what the situation is, I give myself 100% best opportunity to do it. Even if I fail, no problem. I make sure that Hardik Pandya has the best opportunity, the best mindset, to perform. If it does not go well, still fine, with a smile I will accept it. But when I am on the ground, I believe everything is possible. There's nothing impossible. I genuinely believe that. I don't feel fear. It is okay to lose things.

Your life has been vastly different before and after you were suspended by the BCCI for comments you made on a TV talk show. Do you agree that what you said was a mistake?
Absolutely. Because that is the best way - to accept it and just move on. My plan at the time was always that: Hardik, three years down the line if someone is having this conversation, I don't want to say: "I was caught in a trap" or "It was not my mistake." All that I never wanted to do. That's why the first thing I did is, I accepted it. I said sorry.

Accepting is a bigger challenge than anything else, so I wanted to be man enough to accept my own mistakes before anyone told me. It gave me a lot of clarity. It gave me a lot of peace. I said, you are young, you made a mistake, accept it, just make sure you don't repeat it. Accept it, smile, keep your head up and go.

It taught me a lot about life, it taught me how the world functions. I came out of the bubble a smarter and wiser Hardik.

With Mumbai Indians coach Mahela Jayawardene (centre), who told Krunal before the 2019 IPL:

With Mumbai Indians coach Mahela Jayawardene (centre), who told Krunal before the 2019 IPL: "Hardik is going to do something amazing which you guys have never seen" Deepak Malik / © BCCI

I believe Akash Ambani spoke to you at the time?
He met me and said: Yes, people make mistakes. Accept it, own it and move on.

I flew down to Bombay. Later he arranged practice for me because he knew I was under a lot of pressure, a lot of things were on my mind. He just made sure I came to the Reliance ground. [One day during training] he came to the ground. He walked with me a few rounds, talked about life and everything. That gave me the added motivation that I need to do more for them [the Ambanis] because of the kind of support they showed me.

When I heard I was going to get suspended, a lot of cricketers who knew me personally, who knew what kind of an individual I am, they went out and spoke about it, which is fine. They thought I was done. I heard lots of people saying, Hardik's done, he won't be able to cope with this. Because I was the bad boy of Indian cricket at that time.

I told my brother: I am not done. I am going to give them a surprise. I decided that the only thing that can get me out of the whole situation will be my sport. I decided: "Hardik, it is now your time to get your game up, improve."

"Improve" can be just adding one shot or one variation. I said, no, that's not the improvement I want. I want the improvement where you are taking your game one level up: your fielding is going one level up, your batting is going one level up, your bowling is going one level up. I started getting into my batting, I started getting into my technique.

I will tell you one story not many know. Before the 2019 IPL, I had scored a 30-ball 90 and 30-ball 87 in two practice matches. In the first game of the tournament, I got a first-ball duck.

"I make sure that Hardik Pandya has the best opportunity, the best mindset to perform. If it does not go well, still fine" Rafiq Maqbool / © Associated Press

At the Chinnaswamy [Bengaluru], while practising, I was missing the ball by this much ( shows a wide gap). Because when this is not right (points to head) and when you question yourself, things just go wrong. That day I cried during training because there was a lot of emotion. Because of how I was portrayed [after the talk-show incident]. I was never that individual. I was not able to concentrate on my sport because there was a lot of expectation from myself, leave anyone else.

As I was crying, MJ [Mahela Jayawardene, Mumbai head coach] saw me. He said: "What is happening? It will come. It happens." I was not able to talk, so I asked him to give me some time. He had already told my brother before that IPL started: "Hardik is going to do something amazing which you guys have never seen. This year you are going to see: this is the Hardik I have always seen and now he has arrived."

After that first game [where he got a duck], when I went to my room, Krunal came. I asked everyone to go away. Natasa was also there, but I asked her to leave. I put the music on loud and shouted. I was getting my frustration out because in seven-eight months this was the first time I lost out. It was Krunal's birthday but I was not even able to smile.

Because when your mind fights… I have two Hardiks inside me. One is always making sure all the right things are done, and the other is just the bubbly guy who speaks to everyone. I was not able to combine them together. Krunal comes and says: "Let people have expectations from you." He tells me that even today: "My cricket role model is you, so if you don't grow, if I come to your level as a cricketer, I won't be happy because I have always looked up to you. Let people have expectations from you. Just relax, because where you are and what you have done and what you are going to do, no one will be able to match you."

The first game after that I scored a 14-ball 32. After that match Krunal told me, now you will not hear from me.

This one's for the h8rs: in 16 IPL matches in 2019, Pandya scored 402 runs at a strike rate of 191.42

This one's for the h8rs: in 16 IPL matches in 2019, Pandya scored 402 runs at a strike rate of 191.42 Vipin Pawar / © BCCI

MS Dhoni was one of the people who helped you during that difficult time.
He was. 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. When I was picked for the New Zealand series [in January 2019, after the suspension was revoked], 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 [in any case]. 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 called me around the same time I had the conversation with Akash.

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 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. I respect and admire the fact that he was there when I needed him the most.

He was your first international captain and saved you from getting fined for your celebrations after you took your maiden international wicket.
Yeah, he has been my money saver (laughs) from the start.

Last July during the pandemic you took a charter flight to Ranchi to surprise him for his birthday. Was he surprised?
No! Because [someone from the airport staff] called him, saying Hardik and Krunal are coming. So my surprise got spoiled. Before I took off, he is like: "Are you coming here?" I said: "How did you know?" He said: "These charter people told me you're coming. Chal, theek hai, aaja [All right, come over]."

I go there and find him gardening. I asked how his body was and he said his knee hurt a little. I asked why. He says, "I repaired about 50 bikes, and I needed to kneel and squat for it. Now I do it standing up."

Express like MS:

Express like MS: "Staying with him, you learn to be mature, you learn to become humble. People calling him Mr Cool does not suit him. For me, he is always stable" Sandeep Shetty / © BCCI

What would you say is the special bond you share with Dhoni?
Mahi bhai is a darling. There are a lot of things I am allowed [with him], which no one else is. We connect well. Maybe he likes the fact that I never treat him like MS Dhoni. And he understands where I come from. He is like, Okay, yeh kar raha hai toh kuch soch ke kar raha hai [If Hardik is doing something, it's only after he has considered it] type.

Is he your life coach?
In a certain way, yes. We have lovely conversations. As I said, only Mahi can make me understand certain things. Sometimes if I get strong-headed and I go into that zone and I believe some things, 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. I have learned a lot by watching him. He never loses his cool.

Not cool - I don't like the word, and people calling him Mr Cool does not suit him. For me, he is always stable. When he goes out, people are always going to him with requests for photos and xyz. I have thoroughly copied how he behaves outside. When I go out now, no matter how many people are there, there will always be a big smile on my face.

Then there is the "brother from another mother" - Kieron Pollard. What has he taught you?
We call him grandpa. He is from West Indies but he is actually a Gujarati at heart. He literally functions like an Indian: a guy who believes in property, a guy who believes in investments, a guy who believes: instead of buying a car, I'll buy property because it will grow, ek rupiah nahin waste karoonga [I won't waste a rupee].

How Krunal is for me, Pollard is the same. He has been part of the international circuit for a long time. I don't sometimes understand how it functions, but he has taught me to let it be. I am very upfront if I don't like something. There are lots of times when he has calmed me down, lots of times when he has given me life lessons.

The relationship started because of Krunal. In 2015 at the IPL I did not speak to Polly. He was in the next room but it was just "Hi Polly, bye Polly." In 2016, when Krunal came in, I started talking to Polly. Polly is now family, not just a friend, not just a team-mate.

You and Pollard have been in several key batting partnerships for Mumbai. One was in the 2019 league match against Chennai Super Kings, where together you made 45 in the final two overs. You made 25 off eight balls. Pollard said it was a "phenomenal" knock from you. That was your first Player-of-the-Match award in 16 innings during a difficult phase. Do you remember that?
I didn't know he said that. That itself is a big thing for me.

Also, why it was special was because it brought back memories of the 2018 IPL: same ground, same bowler, I was not able to hit one ball. I struggled in that innings [Hardik managed to score just seven runs in eight balls against Dwayne Bravo]. Bravo always had the upper hand against me. As a cricketer I respected him very much. What happened was, whenever I started to talk of a cricketer in high terms, when I played against them, I did not do well. Because of that sense of respect, I was already giving him the upper hand. I did not realise that until 2019.

In that 2019 innings, I was in tremendous form in that game. Not just that game, there was an innings against RCB [he made 37 off 16] and against Kings XI Punjab [31 off 19], where I didn't finish well - I got out against [Mohammed] Shami. But this game, the wicket was good and my team needed me. If we had not scored those quick runs [at the death], they would have won it.

In the first half of this year's IPL, Pollard smashed 87 not out off 34 balls against CSK and Mumbai successfully chased 219. Can you talk about how you two worked out the match situation when you went in to bat? [Hardik joined Pollard in the 17th over and the pair made 32 runs in 13 balls.]
It is just the confidence and the fact that we have done it in the past. I think we needed 150 from nine overs [Mumbai were 84 for 3 after 11 overs]. Not once did we feel it's a stiff target. We said the three Ps [Pollard and the Pandyas] are the only ones that can do it. We three will finish the game no matter what happens. We did not speak about how we are going to get it. We are going to get it, chill.

"Pollard is a Gujarati at heart - a guy who believes in property, in investments. How Krunal is for me, Pollard is the same" Sandeep Shetty / © BCCI

We had two overs in between where we scored two or three runs [overs ten, 11 and 17 fetched a total of six runs]. But none of us, as well as the entire team, felt like it was looking difficult.

We [Pollard and Hardik] don't speak in the middle. We laugh, we joke. Polly is a lot more senior to us, but between us, we are all equal. We understand that everyone has some understanding about the sport. Obviously Polly is the smartest bloody cricketer.

When it comes to reading the situation, can you talk about three matches in Australia in 2020-21 - in two you won the Player of the Match, and in the first one you made 90 and nearly took India to victory.
In that first ODI I was playing for the first time purely as a batter. I made it very clear before I got picked for the tour: I am not available as an allrounder. I did not want that because of me we would be short in preparation in terms of getting the right players. Playing as a bowler was taking a toll on my body. I had to spend a lot of time on the ground. Before that, whenever I have missed out, it has never been because of my batting, it is because of bowling. As a batter I could play every game.

In that first game, we were chasing 370 and I went to bat in the 13th over [14th]. We lost and there was a sense that Hardik should have scored a century. But from the first ball my goal was to try to go for the victory. When I came back to the dressing room, someone said, "Dus run tha, sau karna tha" [You should have gone for the hundred]. I said, "I'm not that kind of cricketer." For me, landmarks are nothing. Getting a hundred or not getting a hundred is irrelevant.

In that game when Jaddu [Ravindra Jadeja] came in, the run rate required was 8.5 [India needed 146 runs from 93 balls]. I thought Jaddu will attack straight away, but he took some time. By the time I reached 90, the run rate was 12.5 [129 needed from 72 balls]. For a second, I told myself to play out [Adam] Zampa's over and then we can see about the next over. But then I was like: "No man, if Zampa is bowling, this is the opportunity. Ya to mein us paar ya is paar [It's either this or that]. After that you have [Mitchell] Starc, [Pat] Cummins and [Josh] Hazlewood and you have to clear 84-metre long boundaries."

In the third ODI, in Canberra, you made 92 and India won. It was the highest partnership for the sixth wicket in Australia.
We were 140 for 5 after 30 overs [144 for 4] and in the last 20 overs we scored 160-odd.

"For me, landmarks are nothing. Getting a hundred or not getting a hundred is irrelevant" David Gray / © AFP/Getty Images

But the best innings I enjoyed on the Australia tour was the T20 one [22-ball 42 in the second T20I] because I was struggling. It was not my smoothest innings. I was talking about that self-confidence - that helped me.

Just watch that innings ball by ball. I was not connecting, I was missing easy balls. I decided I will not show my emotions. It's okay. Got beaten - don't show anything. But that satisfaction of grinding it… it would have been easy for me to just go after the bowling and get out. But that day I was in a zone where it didn't make a difference to me if I was getting beaten. I told myself, it's fine, no problem. And the last ten balls hit the middle of my bat. The game changed for both me and the team. If you ask me now, I don't know how I did it. But I always had confidence that I would get my team the win.

Let's talk about another mad thriller - the 91 off 34 balls against Kolkata Knight Riders in 2019. It was a breathtaking evening of batting - first from Andre Russell, who made a 40-ball 80, and then you nearly hit a century. Was it your best innings?
Hundred per cent. I have never hit a ball like that. Every ball was off the middle of the bat. Every ball flew where I wanted. The first few sixes, I literally did not even finish the bat swing, I just jabbed it and it went 90-95 metres. I was batting with my favourite bat, which I had emotionally put to rest because it had served for three years. I gave my father that bat. I kept the bat in his room after he passed away because that was the bat that gave him a lot of happiness. I must have scored about 150 sixes with it - both in international cricket and IPL. That was my crisis bat. Now I don't have one bat I use. I use every bat in my kit.

Yuvraj Singh said it was probably the best IPL innings he had seen. He said: "[Hardik] can actually be the next big allrounder for India, but he hasn't performed at crunch times. When he starts to know when to take a single and a double, and when to hit those big sixes, then he will actually work as a better player. If someone works on his mind, he can be a massive asset till we get to the next World Cup."
I appreciate and I respect his opinion. He has performed for India for the longest time and he has achieved all that any cricketer would want. I will take his advice. Yes, it has been a constant effort towards understanding my game, and yet I am still learning. At the end of the day I don't know everything.

No one needs to work on my mind. I am not being cocky - I genuinely work towards it myself. With time, everything comes. The most important point is, the result does not matter. No matter how hard you work, there is no guarantee of success. You only get that when your mind is clear. He [Yuvraj] has done a lot of things for Indian cricket. If he thinks I can become a world-class cricketer, I am very humbled and very happy. I will take his advice and work towards it and get better with time.

Skinny but strong:

Skinny but strong: "I knew when I was young that I can't become massive, no matter how much I train. I love batting technique because that allows me to hit with power and consistency" Saikat Das / © BCCI

You are a world-class power-hitter. Kiran More talks about how even as a 13-year-old at his academy, when you hit the ball, it always hit the sweet spot. When did you start working on using your physical strength better?
I loved hitting in the air. I started at Under-13. In my age group, no one used to hit [in the air]. I used to get out at mid-on. My aim was to clear mid-on and I used to hit the very first deliveries I faced. I used to bat at No. 3 with a proper technique. Because I loved hitting in the air, I got natural timing and with age I got power and it became more fluent. It was only in 2019 where I felt I started hitting at a potential I felt I always had. Before that I was never bad in terms of my power-hitting.

Russell says his power comes from a stable base, balance, core and shoulder strength. Physically both of you are different, but you too have a stable base. You now bat with a bit of an open stance. Can you describe where you derive your power from?
That open stance is not in every game. As for power, I love fitness. I knew when I was young that I can't become massive, no matter how much I train. I am lean but I have power. I love batting technique because that allows me to hit with power and consistency. In 2019 I started getting better in my technique. Automatically my consistency went up in power-hitting after I had sorted out playing against the short ball. Now no one bowls short balls to me. Before 2019, people used to come here (points to neck) and I was not good at pulling and hooking. I managed, but in 2019 I practised facing the plastic ball, tennis ball, making sure that my reflexes became quicker. I always had the position at the crease, it's just that I used to be late at reacting because of certain things with my technique.

I started picking where the bowler is going to bowl. I started understanding the fields. There was more clarity. Before that I was in the shadow of Mahi and other [power-hitting] legends. In 2019 was when I felt, Hardik, now you have to start learning how to finish. That is your role. Now you have to become consistent with the hitting.

You also went deeper in the crease. How does that give you an advantage?
I wanted to give myself that fraction of a second more. I didn't speak to anyone about it. I tried it in the nets and I started hitting well. Then what I did was, I bowled and I asked someone to cover the stumps and bat - I told him I would bowl yorkers. If he was showing the stumps, I could pitch the yorkers accurately, but if he covered the stumps, I was missing lots of balls [yorkers] because I wasn't seeing a target. That allowed me to understand that batting deep in the crease could give me a small advantage.

I have also stood outside off stump in the past. I realised that by doing that, bowlers would think twice about bowling wide yorkers to me. But by showing the leg stump I could also get them to bowl in my areas. The bowler might think, he is exposing the leg stump, so if I pitch on the stumps, I could get him lbw, but I knew I would not miss it. I was attempting all this to gain that small upper hand - forcing the bowler to think. Because if you make the bowler think a little and he is not sure about it, then he could miss the length.

In the Delhi game in 2019, where I got the Man of the Match, I was middling the ball, and Chris Morris was bowling [the 19th over]. I told KP [Krunal] that Morris would miss - he has bowled three yorkers and he will miss the fourth one 100%. He did not miss against KP but did against me. In the first four balls Morris went for five runs. In the last two, I got ten.

But the bowlers are learning from watching you. England pitched short against you in the home series in March, and even in the first half of the IPL you got some short-pitched bowling. You struggled for fluency against it.
Yes, but that is a very scary place [for a bowler to pitch short of length]. For a yorker, you have this much margin of error (indicates roughly the size of a small loaf of bread). For a back-of-a-length ball, the margin of error is this much (indicates a few inches). If they miss by that much, it will be a six.

You have to understand the wickets also played a part during the England series. Tremendous planning by them, and I got challenged as well. I have identified it, but I have not done much yet because I have played the same balls and I have hit sixes as well.

Because of my body, because I have to look after my back, I don't get that much opportunity to get fluent. Would you believe that after my father's death and before playing against England, I had just three or four proper batting sessions against the white ball? That is not enough. In the first three games [England T20I series], I was scratchy but by the last two I had good games. And in the ODIs I was able to hit properly. It is just that I needed some match practice. That's why I have not questioned myself yet. I am blessed and lucky and I can adapt very quickly.

On his 34-ball 91 against Kolkata Knight Riders in 2019:

On his 34-ball 91 against Kolkata Knight Riders in 2019: "I have never hit a ball like that. I just jabbed it and it went 90-95 metres" Saikat Das / © BCCI

Let me take you back to a happy day - October 16, 2016.
Oh, ODI debut. It was special to receive that cap because Kapil Dev gave it to me and told me, "You do better than what I have done. You will succeed. Keep working hard."

Before my back surgery, it was very sweet of him to call and say: "Beta, please aap haldi ka doodh peena. Sab theekh ho jayega [Son, drink turmeric milk and everything will be all right]. Take care."

I have heard him talk about me to people and say, "He is better than me." I am not, but someone like him saying that gives me goosebumps and makes me proud that the best allrounder India has ever seen is saying it. So how can I describe that feeling, you know?

The two of you had an on-stage conversation at the Hindustan Times summit recently. Kapil stressed that a bowler should know his body. Do you know your body or are you still getting to know it?
I am still getting to know my body and how it functions. That's why I am making a few changes. Generally, switching off completely does not help me, so I am learning how my body wants to function.

"For you to make a life out of cricket, you need to play at the highest level. Education stays with you throughout life" Alex Morton / © Getty Images

You are the lead finisher of this Indian team, going into the T20 World Cup. How big a responsibility is it?
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.

You have now played three world tournaments - two World Cups and a Champions Trophy and each time India have come close to winning the event. What is the one area where India have to improve?
Just understanding that at the crunch moment, everyone has to stand up. This time we will make sure it will happen. In the crunch situation, let's get together and go for the kill. As a batter I will improve, fine-tune to make sure I get better.

People expect Hardik Pandya the allrounder to turn up and make a difference. But part of evolving is identifying and working on your priorities. When you started your career five years ago, you were an allrounder. You still are, but with a back that has been operated on. Have you thought about turning yourself primarily into a batter for Test cricket?
Nah. I will never be happy if I turn up 50%. I want to make sure that when I turn up, I have given my 120%. Test cricket, right now, I have kept on hold for as long as my body does not allow me to. I am focusing on white-ball cricket because a lot of World Cups are coming and I can provide a lot of things in white-ball cricket right now.

Do you fear you might never play Test cricket?
There is no fear. It's okay.

There are photos of a baby on the back of your phone - is that your son?

Does he have a bat?
Nah, he loves basketball right now. We have a small hoop - he picks up the ball and puts it in.

That is the toughest question I've thought about: what he is going to do [when he grows up]. But then I thought: I am going to teach him ethics, I am going to teach him values, respect. Rest he can decide what he wants to do.

You don't talk much about your wife, Natasa, but is it fair to assume she has been a guiding force in your life?
Absolutely. The foundation of our relationship started when the whole suspension issue was going on, because she was the only woman who stood by me. We became much closer then. She has been absolutely important in my life because she has given me a lot of happiness, along with the little bundle of joy. She is my partner in terms of everything. She gets to know everything I do. If I am confused about something, she is the one I speak to. She gets troubled more than I do when I get some injury. It is very difficult for her to see [me not playing].

As players when we get out, we are upset for maybe ten minutes. But I saw her on camera in Chennai during the IPL's first phase. She was sitting like this (mimes a sulking face) after both me and Krunal had got out. We went and said [to our wives]: please understand, don't be sad, it's sport. With us you will get too many ups and downs. Please adapt to that. She said, you can't stop us from getting disappointed. So I said, go ahead, but don't bring that back to the room, please (laughs).

You have never hidden the fact that you are a self-taught person. You dropped out of school after class nine, but have always been keen to learn new things. You said you learned English off WhatsApp. What is your message to youngsters who want to follow in your footsteps?
The No. 1 thing is: be honest. Honesty brings a lot of good things in life. Achieve success in your way, don't try to copy anyone. Accept your journey. There will be difficult challenges - embrace them, enjoy them, learn from them. Take the disappointments, upsets, problems in a way where you are learning something new. Then you see the difference. It is very easy for me to say that from where I am sitting, but this was the mindset I had from the start and that's why I have reached where I have.

Is education important too?
I always tell people: focus on your education because cricket is a cut-throat business. I, my brother, and all those who got the opportunity are lucky to get the platform we have, but education provides stability. For you to make a life out of cricket, you need to play at the highest level. Education stays with you throughout life.

There are three kinds of people. One, those who are content with whatever they have. The second are the kind of people - and I count myself in that lot - who want to grow. I want to grow, but not by pushing anyone down. I want to grow with the right values and in the right way. The third kind are those who will do anything to get success.

If you have dreams, bloody go for it. But be smart.

Nagraj Gollapudi is news editor at ESPNcricinfo