India feel absence of part-time pacers
Four balls left in his over, Marcus Stoinis grimaced in pain. The seam bowling all-rounder had to leave the field with a side strain and Glenn Maxwell, another all-rounder, completed the rest of the 33rd over. Even with one of their main bowling options gone, Australia had little difficulty in cruising to a 66-run in the first match of the three-ODI contest on Friday.
The significance of the change was not lost on India captain Virat Kohli. Had something similar happened to one of India’s five bowlers, they would have had no alternative but to use a specialist batsman to complete the over. In a game when everyone but Mohammed Shami went over six per over, it would have been catastrophic. That is significance of Hardik Pandya, the bowler, who is currently playing only half his role due to a lower back problem.
“We’ll have to find out ways of getting a few overs from a few part-timers in the side. Unfortunately, Hardik is not ready to bowl yet so we have to accept that and work around it. That is an area we have looked at, which is a very big part of any team balance. Stoinis and Glenn (Maxwell) do it for Australia,” Kohli said after the match.
Pandya was inducted into the India team in 2016 as a power-hitter in the lower order who could bowl. Over the years he grew in both the roles to be India’s No. 1 all-rounder. But a back injury, that had been troubling him since India’s 2018 England tour, meant he needed surgery in February. Pandya is currently in the side only as batsman.
As the No. 6 batsman, Pandya top-scored with a 76-ball 90, also his highest ODI score, and was involved a 128-run fifth stand with opener Shikhar Dhawan on Friday. He also completed 1000 ODI runs during the first ODI, in 857 balls – the fastest Indian (in terms of balls) to reach the milestone. The numbers underline Pandya’s significance even when he is fulfilling only half of his responsibility.
And that also points to the dearth of quality all-rounders, especially with seam bowling ability, in Indian cricket. Vijay Shankar was tried at the 2019 World Cup but did not impress. Shivam Dube, Kohli’s teammate in Royal Challengers Bangalore, has played in 13 T20Is and one ODI but he too hasn’t had any significant impact early on.
Pandya felt that all-rounders needed to be groomed to keep the balance of team intact. “We have to find (seaming all-rounders) and maybe make… I have always believed that. Even when I came into the circuit, I was not always the all-rounder which I wanted to be. But with time, I groomed myself and became that bowling option. I worked on my bowling,” he said.
“It is always going to be difficult when you go with five bowlers. When someone is having an off day, you don’t have someone to fulfill the quota. More than injury, the sixth bowler’s role is when someone among the five bowlers is having a bad day. Maybe we will have to find someone who has already played India, and groom them and find a way to make them play.”
The 27-year-old Pandya has played all three formats for India. In 11 Tests he has 532 runs and 17 wickets, 1047 runs and 54 wickets in 55 ODIs and in 40 T20Is, he has 310 runs and 38 wickets.
The 27-year-old said he is ready to wait for his lower back to take bowling load for him to be ready for the big series as well as the World Cups, starting with the 2021 World T20 in India.
“I am looking at a long-term goal where I want to be 100% of my bowling capacity for the most important games. The World Cups are coming. More crucial series are coming. I am thinking as a long-term plan, not short term where I exhaust myself and maybe have something else which is not there. I can’t tell you exactly when I am going to bowl but the process is on. In the nets, I am bowling,” Pandya said.
Make or break
Subroto Banerjee, former India pacer and ex-NCA fast bowling coach, felt a back trouble, from which Pandya is recuperating, can be a make-or-break situation for any seamer. “We often see all-rounders giving up bowling completely because their back is not holding up. It is the one of most important body parts for a pacer. It takes majority of the load during the delivery apart of the legs. It generates the power. And unlike hamstring or other injuries, it takes more time to heal,” said Banerjee.
“Pandya has no option but to wait. Had he been younger, he could have thought of changing his action to reduce pressure on his back but not now. He might not be the same bowler if he changes his action now, something which he is so comfortable in.”
As Pandya awaits full recovery, India need to groom a pace bowling all-rounder which can happen only after the Australia tour. Facing a must-win situation in the second ODI in Sydney on Sunday, Kohli might ring in changes. In place of Navdeep Saini, who leaked 83 in 10 overs, they may add variety by giving left-hand pacer T Natarajan, who earned a national call-up for his uncanny ability to bowl yorkers, a debut. Seamer Shardul Thakur, who is also a decent bat, may also be used but that might mean one of the two spinners, Yuzvendra Chahal and Ravindra Jadeja, missing out. That Jadeja is a spin bowling all-rounder only makes selection trickier.