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The Hardik Pandya conundrum for selectors


CHENNAI: There will be some difficult questions for the selectors when they pick the squad for the Australia tour later this week. Other than finding replacements for Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Ishant Sharma, they will also have to decide if Hardik Pandya fits in the scheme of things.

The all-rounder had surgery in England last October for a back injury, which was detected in 2018. The 27-year-old, who recently became a father, is playing for Mumbai Indians as a lower-order batsman. In the nine matches he has played, he has not bowled an over.

This puts a question mark over his selection, since he plays for India as an all-rounder. The team management considers him precious and wants to use him in all three formats. But the equation changes if he doesn’t bowl. Other than robbing the team of a fast-bowling all-rounder, it also reduces his utility to a major extent.

Despite the value the player adds, the Indian team has not been able to utilise his services as often as they would like. After last year’s World Cup in England, he played two T20Is against South Africa at home in 2019 when the injury recurred and he went for surgery. The last Test he played was in 2018. He was included in the side for New Zealand tour this year but was withdrawn. The IPL is a comeback event for him.

“Aggressive batting, ability to clock 140kmph with the ball and brilliant fielding makes him an asset. But if he is not bowling, I don’t think he makes the cut purely as a batsman. Playing for Mumbai as a lower-order striker of the ball is something. Playing as a batsman for India is something else. The requirement is different,” said former national selector Ashok Malhotra.

It’s not clear whether Pandya is not bowling now so that he can roll his arm over in the near future. “Maybe the management has plans for him. Hardik would be a valuable option in Australia because he covers two spots with his batting and bowling. In world cricket, there are only a handful who can do that. But not bowling reduces his importance,” added Malhotra.

Fast-bowling all-rounder is something that India has been longing for. But the stocks are low. This IPL has seen a few batsmen, pacers and spin-bowling all-rounders make a mark. Nobody has ticked the box when it comes to doing the job that the younger of the Pandya brothers does. “If he is not bowling, search for the fast-bowling all-rounder continues,” said former selection committee chief MSK Prasad.