Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

London — Virat Kohli has backed Hardik Pandya to showcase his credentials as the future of Indian cricket with another swashbuckling display against Sri Lanka on Thursday.

Pandya has emerged as one of India’s most promising talents since making his debut in 2016 and Kohli sees signs his young prodigy is ready to take his development to the next level.

Having played a key role in the Mumbai Indians’ triumph in the Indian Premier League earlier in 2017, the 23-year-old all-rounder underscored his rapid emergence by making a bright start to his country’s Champions Trophy campaign.

In an indication of Kohli’s high regard, Pandya was promoted up the batting order ahead of the great MS Dhoni. He responded by smashing 20 not out off just six balls in Sunday’s 124-run victory over Pakistan in Birmingham. But Pandya had not finished and he chipped in with two key wickets as India launched their title defence in swaggering style.

With India due to play their second Group B match against Sri Lanka at The Oval on Thursday, Kohli suggested Pandya was well on his way to becoming one of his country’s finest players. "He’s a real asset to Indian cricket. It’s very hard to find someone who can almost touch 140km/h and who strikes the way he does," Kohli said.

"He can bat through the innings as well. It’s really hard to find people with that kind of ability. Once you have a player like that, you need to make sure he’s always committed to give 100% for the team. That comes naturally to Hardik. So you don’t need to motivate him any further in any other way."

Pandya’s boisterous personality and fun-loving lifestyle have irked some of the conservative figures in Indian cricket.

But Kohli said Pandya’s self-styled rock star image was not a hindrance to fully using his vast gifts. "People should appreciate his skill and what he brings to the table," he said.

"A lot of people focus on a lot of other things with Hardik, which I don’t think should be anyone else’s problem. He has his own journey and he’s finding his own way.

"If he gets the kind of support that a player like him should get, I think he could go down as one of the most accomplished Indian cricketers in times to come.

"He’s superb in the field, superb with the ball, brilliant with the bat. The kind of balance he brings to the team is priceless."


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