Hardik Pandya has been an automatic pick in India’s T20I side for a long time but should he still be?
Talking about Hardik Pandya’s selection for the T20 World Cup, the chairman of selectors, Chetan Sharma said: “Because T20 is all about all-rounders, that’s why we have packed up the team with all-rounders. We have Ravindra Jadeja, Hardik Pandya, and Axar Patel. If the wickets are turning, we have Axar and Jadeja, and Hardik Pandya is one of the leading all-rounders India have.”
He continued discussing talking about Pandya’s role in the side. “Hardik Pandya is absolutely fit, he will bowl his full quota of overs. He’s 100 per cent fit.”
So, it seems clear that Hardik Pandya, despite questions over his fitness over the last few months, has been chosen as an all-round option, rather than a specialist middle-order batter. This is a big deal given that the Baroda allrounder hasn’t bowled a single over in the present (or the previous) IPL, and has bowled only 52 overs in international cricket since the 2019 ODI Cricket World Cup.
In June, Hardik Pandya told TOI Sportscast, “For me, I want to make sure, and I will be able to, that I bowl in all the World Cup games. I am just trying to be smart and make sure that I don’t miss that. My full focus is on the World Cup.”
Since then, it seems an effort has been put in place to get Pandya back into the rhythm of bowling. But it has thrown up mixed results. Pandya bowled 16 of those aforementioned 52 overs during the tour of Sri Lanka, he wasn’t at this best, conceding nearly seven runs per over in the ODI series or, apparently, at full fitness – during the second ODI, he was seen holding his lower back and only bowled four overs.
Moreover, his batting has waned of late, too.. After a productive IPL 2020, this season he has scored only 52 runs this season at an average of 8.66. If we look at his recent international form, while he showed decent form against England, he failed during the tour of Sri Lanka. This leaves a question mark around a player who is considered to be one of the “leading all-rounders” in India. He is short on both bowling and runs.
Looking at the Indian squad, it seems clear that the selectors have chosen a spin-heavy strategy, keeping in mind the conditions in UAE post-IPL. The slower nature of wickets is expected to suit the Indian spin attack. Also, the encouraging returns of Ravindra Jadeja and Axar Patel with the bat in recent times have allowed the selectors to go with five spinners in the squad.
But, on the flip side, India have chosen only three specialist fast bowlers. Pandya the bowler, might be needed, not only in case of a fast-bowler going out of form or the conditions not being as spin-friendly as expected, but also as a genuine reserve bowling option.
In the post-match press conference of the Sydney ODI last year, Pandya had himself ruminated the absence of a “sixth bowler” who could give cushion to a regular bowler who was having an off-day.
On a particular day during this T20 World Cup, Pandya could be asked to play the role of the fifth or sixth bowler. Now, the question isn’t if he is willing to play that role, but rather how “ready” he is for that role. This becomes an issue given his recent poor run with the bat.
Perhaps, he can answer a few questions about his form and fitness over the next leg of the IPL. In his best form, Pandya’s cutters can be effective on low and slow surfaces and he can prove to be a big match player as he has often done for Mumbai Indians in the past. Over the next few weeks, Pandya will look to actively seal his place in the Indian playing XI for the T20 World Cup and dispel those recent doubts – if he returns to somewhere near his best form, India have a serious player on their books.