Star all-rounder Hardik Pandya made a comeback to the Indian cricket team after six months in the recently concluded five-match T20I series against South Africa at home. In his four outings against the Proteas, Hardik Pandya amassed 117 runs at a highly impressive average of 58.50, finishing as the third-highest run-getter in the series. However, more than the runs, it was his transformation from a temperamental to a mature, level-headed cricketer that has stunned former cricketers. Sunil Gavaskar is the latest to laud Hardik Pandya for realizing his full potential because it gives another dimension to his personality. Moreover, he reckons that Hardik Pandya is now a huge “asset” for Team India, considering he can bat, bowl, field, and above everything else, he can now captain the team. Hardik's first stint as India captain is not too far away now as he's all set to lead the side in the upcoming two T20Is against Ireland in Dublin. The first match of the series will be played in the Irish capital on June 26.

“It's good to see the maturity that has come in Hardik Pandya's batting, and his cricket overall. He has tempered his talent with that little bit of responsibility,” Sunil Gavaskar said on Star Sports.

“Earlier on, when he played in a team full of superstars. I mean, he grew up in the team of superstars, whether it was Mumbai Indians or India. And so, it was easy to go and say, “I will just play my game because these guys will take care of me. They will take up in case I fail'.”

“Now, as a captain, he knows his responsibility. He knows he has to take his team. And that has only improved him as a cricketer and that is only good for Indian cricket,” Sunil Gavaskar explained.

Former India batter Mohammad Kaif too was impressed with his captaincy before declaring Hardik Pandya's leadership as “outstanding”.

Mohammad Kaif also revealed that Hardik Pandya the skipper is extremely different from Hardik Pandya the player. Leader Hardik Pandya is known to take up more and more responsibility on his shoulders. Throughout Gujarat’s IPL-winning campaign, Hardik Pandya was seen promoting himself up in the batting order. On the bowling front, Hardik Pandya was seen taking the new ball for his team.

“I was there at the ground for the finals in Ahmedabad. I saw him captaining there live. His field placement was outstanding. He is also a good man-manager because the way his players performed under pressure told me the story of nice vibes around the team,” Mohammad Kaif said in a virtual interaction organized by Sony Sports.

“He’s backing his players; he was standing at mid-off and was talking to his players, especially to the bowlers when they felt the pressure in terms of bowling in death overs. If you ask me personally, I was very impressed with his captaincy. There are a lot of teams playing the IPL from the very first year (and) have not done what Hardik did winning the IPL title as a captain in the very first year,” the former India middle-order batter added.

“When he captained, what I saw as a player was in Hardik Pandya, he’s ticked most boxes in captaincy. Because of winning the toss and seeing the conditions, he was spot-on (with his decision-making). Sometimes he batted first, he chased the target, giving the roles to batters as well as bowlers. Also, his form was very crucial, he was batting at three, four; coming into power-play and batted till the end apart from bowling a few overs,” Mohammad Kaif asserted.

“Hardik did a good job with captaincy and if you see with Gujarat Titans, you could say they were not the strongest side after the auction. Few other franchises had done a good job. But it’s about how you play and perform on the field on that day. You want to pick the best eleven to win the series (against Ireland). Hardik can do that; he has done well for Gujarat,” Kaif pointed out.

During the same interaction, Mohammad Kaif declared that Hardik Pandya and the seasoned Dinesh Karthik will play a “crucial” role in Team India’s T20 World Cup campaign in Australia later this year.

“I have been saying that if you see the top-order, you have lots of players there like Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul, Ishan Kishan, (Shreyas) Iyer. But to finish the game, Hardik Pandya and Dinesh Karthik will be playing a major role as India need finishers who can play with higher strike rate,” Mohammad Kaif said.

“So, I see these two repeating the same things again and again. Like they did against South Africa and in the IPL as well, their form will be crucial against Ireland and when they play T20Is against England and then moving forward from there. If India has to win the World Cup, they will be playing a crucial role,” he further added.