Hardik Pandya's bowling woes crashes Axar Patel’s World Cup dream

  • The all-rounder, who underwent back surgery, did not bowl for Mumbai Indians in IPL’s current phase, but has been retained in the India squad for the T20 World Cup.
File image of Hardik Pandya.(Getty)
File image of Hardik Pandya.(Getty)
Published on Oct 13, 2021 08:23 PM IST
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By Rasesh Mandani

The Indian selectors fretted over Hardik Pandya’s inability to bowl for over a month before making the forced change to the squad of 15 for the upcoming T20 World Cup, drafting in Shardul Thakur in place of Axar Patel.

While Patel would consider himself extremely unlucky to miss out, Thakur with his diverse range of T20 bowling skills and batting utility makes the cut as the fourth bowling option, behind Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammad Shami.

Also read: Virat Kohli’s captaincy: Numbers and other perspectives

“Hardik is fit and will bowl the full quota of his overs,” chairman of selectors Chetan Sharma had said at the team announcement last month. There has been no word on Pandya’s bowling readiness though. With the Mumbai Indians all-rounder not delivering a single ball in the UAE leg of IPL, no one can be certain if, when and how much bowling workload Pandya’s dodgy back can take.

After MI’s IPL campaign ended, skipper Rohit Sharma didn’t sound confident. “All I know is he hasn’t bowled a single ball yet. But he’s getting better day by day. So, in the next week or so, he might be able to bowl; only the doctors or the physios will be able to give an update on that,” he said.

PANDYA, T20 POWER-HITTER

Despite doubts over Pandya’s bowling arm, Indian selectors have backed his batting abilities. Though Pandya had a middling IPL season with 127 runs at an average of 14, he remains India’s leading power-hitter batting at No.6. For many years, Pandya, with brother Krunal and Kieron Pollard have been MI’s strike force at Nos. 5-6-7. For India, Pandya and Ravindra Jadeja show that promise at No. 6-7.

Pandya the batter has the numbers to back his case. Scoring at a strike rate of 153.91, he’s the only Indian other than Virender Sehwag in the all-time top-10 for strike rate in IPL. Even in T20Is no Indian batter (minimum 20 matches) other than Dinesh Karthik scores at a superior strike rate than his 145.34.

In IPL matches at the UAE though, Pandya could not find his batting range except against Punjab Kings where he closed the game with a 40*. If Pandya’s struggles continue, Thakur gives India the option of a batter at No. 7, with a long tail to follow.

TACTICAL TWEAK

Pandya’s fitness concerns though have forced the selectors to dilute their Plan A, which was to go all-out with spin. With Patel out and pushed to the reserves, Virat Kohli is left with only four spin options. Patel has been outstanding with his left-arm spin this IPL, taking 15 wickets till Qualifier 2 and regularly bowling in the powerplay.

Varun Chakaravarthy has enhanced his reputation as a mystery spinner and Jadeja has kept things honest, while comeback man Ravichandran Ashwin has had mixed returns of late. The one player whose recent form would worry the team is that of leg-spinner Rahul Chahar. The MI spinner was dropped from the eleven after the first four matches in the UAE. The selectors though have reposed faith in him over the experienced Yuzvendra Chahal, who was at his best for RCB, picking 14 wickets in 8 matches. Chetan Sharma had said Chahar was picked because he bowled quicker.

Eight players—Avesh Khan, Umran Malik, Harshal Patel, Lukman Meriwala, Venkatesh Iyer, Karn Sharma, Shahbaz Ahmed and K. Gowtham—have been named to assist the team at the nets.

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Tuesday, October 19, 2021