'Want him to push his limit as all-rounder': Watson calls for Hardik's Test return; makes big Rahul remark post Gill ton

ByAratrick Mondal, Doha
Mar 13, 2023 07:26 AM IST

The Aussie legend, who admitted himself to be a huge fan of KL Rahul, also left a powerful message for the India star after his comeback to the Indian side in the near future was put to a halt earlier in the fourth Test when Shubman Gill scored a fabulous ton in Ahmedabad.

Hardik Pandya did make an impactful return to cricket last summer after a long gap owing to his continued struggle with a back injury, before he even went on to feature in the T20 World Cup last year as an all-rounder. But the India star is yet to don his Test whites, having last played the format back in September 2018. While India have not really suffered in his absence in the ongoing Border-Gavaskar Test series or any home series for that matter, the gap remains evident when the team travels abroad. India have often, in such scenarios, settled for an unlikely option in Shardul Thakur, who is more of a bowler who can occasionally bat. Former Australia cricketer Shane Watson feels that it is time for Hardik to "push the limits as an all-rounder" and make that return to the red-ball format.

Shane Watson; Hardik Pandya
Shane Watson; Hardik Pandya

Over the last five years, Hardik has been on and off the sport with his back injury. In 2020, he made an impressive return to white-ball cricket with his all-round role which led to conversations on whether Hardik could return to Test cricket for the then Border-Gavaskar series Down Under. Virat Kohli, who was then the captain of the Indian side, had clarified that the team needs Hardik the all-rounder and not just a batter.

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The 29-year-old has remained conscious of his injury struggle since his white-ball return in June last year and has made bowling adjustments accordingly in ODIs and T20Is.

Watson, in reply to a Hindustan Times query on the sidelines of Legends League Cricket 2023 in Doha, said that if Hardik, whom he hailed as a "special talent in world cricket", feels that he handles the rigours of the longest format of the sport, it is time for him to take that leap and return to Tests.

“If his body can handle the rigours of Test cricket then absolutely. He has got incredible skills even with his batting alone. He has got a very very sound batting technique. Yes, he is a power-hitter of the ball but everyone has seen him move up the batting order in T20 cricket, batting at No.4 for Gujarat Lions. Even in ODIs, he is not just a power-hitter. So from just batting perspective, he has got the game to perform in Test cricket,” he said.

“Bowling wise, if he is fit he charges in and he has got great skill. He can swing the brand new ball away and he would provide a huge impact for the Indian Test team. For me it eventually comes down to his body and whether it can handle the rigours of playing Test cricket as a fast-bowling all-rounder. I would love to see him push the limits as an all-rounder and cricketer when it comes to playing all formats of the game because he is one of the special talents in world cricket.”

The Aussie legend, who admitted himself to be a huge fan of KL Rahul, also left a powerful message for the India star after his comeback to the Indian side in the near future was put to a halt earlier in the fourth Test when Shubman Gill scored a fabulous ton in Ahmedabad.

Gill, who failed to impress in the third Test against Australia after replacing a struggling Rahul, scored a 128-run knock off 235 balls as India scored 571 runs to take a first-innings lead of 91.

Although Watson was full of praise for the young India batter, he opined that Gill had it easy on the batting-friendly track compared to Rahul, who played on tougher pitches. The Aussie also left a message for Rahul, who is now unlikely to return to his position after Gill left a powerful impression.

“The biggest thing about KL Rahul would be allowing himself the freedom just to take the game on. What Shubman Gill has done is come in and...yes he is playing on on a very nice batting track as well compared to the other Test matches. But again, Gill is full of confidence and has got that real young exuberance with his aggression in taking on the game. Unfortunately for Rahul, because he is concerned about his spot, he just doesn't have that full freedom and fluency to make use of the skill that he has got. I am a huge fan of Rahul. I love the way he plays. Beautiful to watch. The biggest thing is that let that pressure go and take the ball as it comes because he has got immense skill and can take on and take down and defend the best balls in the world in all conditions. So that will be a big learning for him,” he said.

The ex-Australia all-rounder also gave his verdict on Rohit Sharma's captaincy, for whom it was a first big assignment since taking over the role last year. "Rohit is a very experienced captain. Yes as a Test captain it is his first real big series, but he is an experienced leader and has got some great people around him like Rahul Dravid, who is a very special person himself. So any direction or guidance that he needs will come from him. The beauty of Rohit taking over India captaincy is the experience he has got and the success he has had having led Mumbai Indians, albeit in the shorter format," he said.

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