Ace Team India all-rounder Hardik Pandya has earned rich plaudits from former pacer of the Indian Cricket Team Irfan Pathan who has claimed that the Gujarat Titans skipper could turn out to be the finisher the Men in Blue have been looking for some time. Irfan Pathan also heaped rich praise on Kashmir-born fast bowler Umran Malik, declaring that the 22-year-old has made the entire world excited with his impressive showing in the Indian Premier League (IPL).

According to Irfan Pathan, with Hardik Pandya back at his peak fitness levels and bowling again, the all-rounder provides a fine balance to the Indian cricket team as he could win the side matches both with the bat and the ball.

On the other hand, his fielding is a massive plus for any cricket team, as he was among the best fielders in the world, especially in the outfield.

Additionally, Hardik Pandya is also fresh off a huge win in the IPL, where he guided the debutants Gujarat Titans to the IPL title in their maiden campaign in the cash-rich league.

Hence, he will also be a part of the leadership group after being named the vice-captain of the side. His inputs could prove to be invaluable for Rishabh Pant who will lead Team India in the absence of KL Rahul. The Karnataka batter was earlier ruled out of the series against the Proteas due to a groin injury.

“Hardik Pandya is very valuable and he is capable of finishing the game. He can do that, batting from the top as well. So, the management is quite aware of this, and having him in the team, they don’t just have one or two but three finishers in the team. The way Hardik Pandya bats, he is capable of scoring sixes anytime and has started playing along the ground too, which is why this season in the IPL, he has been great. Getting back to batting, the Indian team, having three finishers, has filled up the gaps, and having him back in the team excites me a lot,” Pathan told Indian broadcaster Star Sports.

Irfan Pathan is a part of a select group of Indian speedsters who could swing both the new and the old ball during his playing days was also impressed with Punjab Kings left-arm pacer Arshdeep Singh.

Irfan Pathan argued that the 23-year-old was among the most consistent death bowlers around and he should get a chance in the series against South Africa which begins in Delhi on Thursday.

“Absolutely thrilled to see these two guys getting the India call-up. Arshdeep Singh has been bowling well since a long time now. A left-arm bowler does give you a different angle, but the way he has bowled in the death is what has impressed me the most,” he said.

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Like India’s premier limited-overs fast bowler Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Arshdeep has an extremely deceptive slower ball in his arsenal. The Sikh can produce yorkers at a consistent pace and with regularity, making him one of the toughest speedsters to get away in the death overs.

Moreover, Arshdeep is known as a keen learner – someone who wants to improve all the time. A case in point is his death overs mastery because he honed his skills accordingly to take up that challenge for Punjab in the IPL.

Irfan Pathan also spoke about Umran Malik’s potential and how he could be turned into a world-class pacer under the wings of national coach Rahul Dravid.

Pathan has seen Umran Malik’s rise from close quarters as he was his mentor when he was associated with the Jammu and Kashmir team as a player-cum-coach.

Irfan Pathan insisted that he was an exciting talent for Team India and while Umran Malik didn’t have much experience of first-class cricket, Rahul Dravid’s mentorship would help him improve his skills.

“Umran Malik – Wow – you know, he’s bowled consistently at 150km. I’m really impressed with him. The whole world is excited, not just India, because there aren’t many who can bowl 15km consistently in the world. In that way, he has got potential. Obviously, he is inexperienced as far his first-class cricket is concerned. But I think this team management, Rahul Dravid, and all the coaches will back him,” he added.

Though Irfan Pathan has backed both Arshdeep Singh and Umran Malik to come good in the series against South Africa, it would be interesting to see who is selected to make his debut for India in Delhi.

Earlier national coach Rahul Dravid had hinted at picking one of the two for the first game against the Temba Bavuma-led side.

“It is brilliant in terms of watching Umran in the nets, you can see that he has got that pace. Obviously, he is learning. He is a young boy and he is getting better, improving. The more he is able to play, the better he is going to get. From our, perspective, very happy to have someone like him in the mix. We have to see how much playing time we can give him, we need to be realistic, we have a large squad, it is not possible to give everyone playing XI time,” the India legend had said on Tuesday.