It took a comprehensive defeat against Pakistan for the debate over Hardik Pandya’s place in the XI to start raging again. He hardly bowls these days and though he can be a big hitter of the ball – one of the most valuable skills in T20 cricket – whether that alone merits a spot in the team is the million-dollar question. Some quarters feel he shouldn’t have been in the squad in the first place.
Hardik has been deemed fit after getting hit on the shoulder in the previous match, but whether he will be retained for the must-win game against New Zealand remains to be seen. And in case India don’t take the right call, the Pandya dilemma can hurt them in Sunday’s virtual quarter-final against New Zealand.
Why is it such an important selection issue?
Somebody who bats in the top six and bowls a few overs lends balance to a playing XI. Hardik was touted as the end of India’s search for a seam-bowling all-rounder. He was, and still can be, destructive with the bat possessing a six-hitting capability comparable to anybody in world cricket. When he was bowling regularly, Hardik used to be brisk and useful, providing an extra option, especially in seamer-friendly conditions. Without him bowling, the captain is often short of options if one of the frontline operators is taken to the cleaners. If Hardik is a regular bowling option, there is scope to include an extra batsman or bowler as per requirement and tactics.
Why is he not bowling?
A longstanding back issue has hampered his bowling ability. Hardik had surgery in 2019 to alleviate the problem, but his stints with the ball have remained rare, both for India and the Mumbai Indians in the Indian Premier League. He did bowl during India’s limited-overs tour of Sri Lanka in July, but was not seen with the ball in the 2021 IPL, either in India or the UAE.
Why is Hardik being picked nevertheless?
Because of his destructive batting ability. In white-ball cricket, Hardik has the power to change the complexion of any game in a matter of balls. His unique method of minimum movement, a still head, getting deep in the crease, and opening the hips provides great bat-speed which can target both fast bowlers and spinners, off front and back foot. He has won several matches for both India and Mumbai Indians with the bat only, though he has not done that too often of late.
What have the selectors done to cover up for Hardik’s lack of bowling?
Shardul Thakur was included in the T20 World Cup squad to provide an extra seam-bowling option. He has been quite impressive with the bat for India, especially in Test matches, and is a bit of a golden arm with the ball, getting movement both ways at a decent pace. He has an aggressive and no-fear approach, but has a limited sample size in international cricket, even if he could be an upgrade on Hardik with the ball.
Left-arm spinner Axar Patel was initially picked in the squad, but had to make way for Thakur once it was known that Hardik may not be able to bowl. Some former selectors have even opined that Hardik should have been left out if he wasn’t able to bowl.
What is the team management’s take?
Hardik played as a specialist batsman against Pakistan in India’s opening match. Skipper Virat Kohli was of the opinion that what Hardik provided with the bat was valuable enough for him to be pencilled in the playing XI even if he doesn’t bowl. He said there was hope that Hardik would do so sometime later in the tournament.
“We strongly feel that we can make the most of the opportunity at hand till the time he starts bowling. We’ve considered a couple of other options to chip in for an over or two. So, we’re not bothered about that at all. What he brings at that No.6 spot is something you cannot create overnight,” Kohli had said on the eve of the Pakistan game.
“We understand the value he brings to the team as a No.6 batter, and in world cricket, if you look around, there are specialists who do that job. It’s very important to have that guy, especially in T20 cricket, who can play an impact innings at that stage. Even when the chips are down, he’s someone who can play a long innings in that way. So for us, that is way more valuable than forcing him to do something he’s not ready for at the moment.”
Has the scenario changed since?
After the defeat to Pakistan, India have little wriggle room in their next game against New Zealand on Sunday, when a loss can even spell doom for their aspirations in the tournament.
Not having a genuine sixth bowling option tied Kohli’s hands as Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan took the match away from them. Hence, team composition will be debated vigorously ahead of the clash with the Kiwis. There is a school of thought that Thakur could be a better all-round option than Hardik and provide Kohli with cover if things don’t exactly go to plan.
How do other top sides compose their XIs?
Most teams having success at the ongoing T20 World Cup have someone who can contribute with both bat and ball. Australia have Marcus Stoinis, Mitchell Marsh and Glenn Maxwell, England have Moeen Ali while Pakistan have Mohammad Hafeez. In addition to the specialist batsmen and bowlers, they can provide the vital link that can often make the difference.
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