Mahesh Parmar, our cab driver, asks “Tamey Hardik Pandya ne goto chho?” (You are looking for Hardik Pandya?), as he drives us from Vadodara railway station to Diwalipura, in the suburbs.
Parmar — who appears to be in his early 40s — regales us with stories about Hardik.
From his tattoos to his love for hair dyes, for the next 20 minutes, Parmar tells us everything he knows about the India all-rounder, who is gearing up for his first World Cup.
And it’s not just Parmar. Roam around Vadodara and everyone has a tale to tell about their ‘Harry’!
No. 13/182, Parishram Park, Bapu Ni Dargah is an address not many may have heard of. Tucked away in a corner of Vadodara, this small flat in an old four-storeyed building, was once the home of the Pandyas.
The man of the house, Himanshu, ran a business — dealing with cars and finances — while his wife Nalini looked after the young Hardik and Krunal.
For the two brothers, breaking into the Baroda Ranji Trophy squad was still a distant dream, forget thinking about the India cap.
“While Krunal was more serious about the game, Hardik would just accompany him to practice sessions,” recollects Neville Wadia.
Family friends of the Pandyas, the Wadia family — which runs the New Sunrise School on Waghodia Road — played a key role in helping both Hardik and Krunal ‘fall in love’ with the sport.
The brothers studied in the school before Himanshu moved to Surat.
Neville, who was a cricketer himself, laid a concrete pitch on the school ground in 1998 and that gave the Pandyas the incentive to spend time outside the classroom.
“Hardik was never interested in academics. He just wanted to play cricket,” Shirin Wadia, who taught both brothers, says.
Despite having a steady business in Surat, Himanshu returned to Vadodara — which has a strong cricketing culture — to make sure that his children received expert guidance in cricket.
That’s when Kiran More entered the picture. The former India wicketkeeper changed the world for the Pandya brothers.
Krunal was the first to enrol at More’s cricket academy at the IPCL sports complex — which is now the Reliance Stadium. Hardik was just four or five then. But, he accompanied his elder brother for practice every day.
While Krunal trained, Hardik would stand in one corner of the ground and try to emulate some of the things he learnt from Krunal.
“One day, I called him and said ‘you also join’. That’s how it started,” More recollects.
Back then, Vadodara was going gaga over the Pathan brothers — Yusuf and Irfan. Having battled the odds and stormed into the India team, the Pathans inspired several young cricketers in the city.
Krunal and Hardik were no different.
On December 10, 2009, most of the local newspapers in Vadodara carried pictures of a young boy who had scored a double century against Mumbai in a Vijay Merchant Trophy fixture.
Leading the side, Hardik batted for eight hours to score 228 off 391 balls.
“That was his first season and that was the start of his journey. Later, he made it to the U-19 side and the transformation was smooth,” says his coach, Jitendra.
Till then he was mainly a batsman who also bowled leg-spin. But once when the team was short a pacer, Jitendra advised him to bowl medium-pace. It was a gamble that paid off!
“In that match, he took five wickets in the first innings. That’s how, his journey as an all-rounder began,” Jitendra, who has been with Hardik through thick and thin, reveals.
His heroics against Mumbai made him known in the city’s cricketing circles and soon he began training with the seniors.
Irfan remembers an incident when he was hit for a few sixes by Hardik at the nets. Irfan was a regular in the national team then and was impressed.
After the practice session, Irfan gifted him a bat and a pair of gloves.
Off the field, Hardik was happy-go-lucky. He had a fascination for hair colours and cars, and there were occasions when many Baroda veterans raised eyebrows at his extravagance.
But the younger Pandya let his performance do the talking!
In 2015 he was picked by Mumbai Indians for a base price of ₹10 lakh. And, there has been no looking back.
Despite his success, injuries and controversies continued to walk hand in hand with the 25-year-old.
After a terrific outing with the India team, Hardik suffered a career-threatening back injury during the Asia Cup last year. But with sheer determination and hard work, he was back in business soon.
He returned to Baroda’s Ranji Trophy side and emerged a match-winner against Mumbai.
Then came the suspension over controversial remarks on a TV show.
But, he bounced back and emerged as one of the leading run-getters for Mumbai Indians in this edition of the IPL.
As Hardik gears up for his maiden World Cup, friends and well-wishers are confident of his success.