Indian selectors expressed concern over Hardik Pandya’s inability to bowl for over a month before forcibly changing his squad of 15 for the upcoming T20 World Cup, drafting Shardul Thakur in place of Axar Patel.
While Patel considers himself extremely unlucky to miss, Thakur with his diverse range of T20 bowling skills and batting utility makes the cut as the fourth bowling option after Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammed Shami.
“Hardik is fit and will bowl his full quota of overs,” chairman of selectors Chetan Sharma said during the squad announcement last month. However, nothing has been said about Pandya’s preparation for bowling. With the Mumbai Indians all-rounder not delivering a single ball in the UAE leg of the IPL, one cannot be sure when, when and how much Pandya’s dodgy back might take charge.
After MI’s IPL campaign came to an end, captain Rohit Sharma was not convinced. “All I know is that he hasn’t bowled a single ball yet. But he is getting better day by day. So, in the next one week, he might be able to bowl; Only the doctor or physio will be able to give an update on that.”
Pandya, T20 power-hitter
Despite doubts over Pandya’s bowling, the Indian selectors have backed his batting abilities. Although Pandya had 127 runs in the IPL season at an average of 14, he remained India’s leading power-hitter batting at No. For many years, Pandya, along with brothers Krunal and Kieron Pollard have been MI’s strike force at numbers 5-6-7. For India, Pandya and Ravindra Jadeja showed that promise at No. 6-7.
The Pandya batsman has the numbers to back his case. Scoring at a strike rate of 153.91, he is the only Indian apart from Virender Sehwag in the all-time top-10 for a strike rate in the IPL. Apart from Dinesh Karthik, in T20Is also, no Indian batsman (minimum 20 matches) scores with a strike rate better than his 145.34.
However in IPL matches in UAE, Pandya could not find his batting range against Punjab Kings where he closed the game with 40*. If Pandya’s struggle continues, Thakur gives India the option of a batsman at number seven with a long tail behind him.
Pandya’s fitness concerns, however, forced the selectors to dilute their Plan A, which was to go all out with spin. After Patel is dismissed and pushed into reserve, Virat Kohli is left with only four spin options. Patel has been excellent with his left-arm spin this IPL, taking 15 wickets till Qualifier 2 and bowling regularly in the powerplays.
Varun Chakravarthy has grown his reputation as a mystery spinner and Jadeja has kept things honest while comeback Ravichandran Ashwin has given mixed returns of late. One player whose recent form will worry the team is leg-spinner Rahul Chahar. The MI spinner was dropped from eleven after the first four matches in the United Arab Emirates. The selectors, however, have reposed faith in the experienced Yuzvendra Chahal, who took 14 wickets in 8 matches for RCB. Chetan Sharma had said that Chahar was picked because he bowled fast.
Eight players – Awesh Khan, Umran Malik, Harshal Patel, Lukman Meriwala, Venkatesh Iyer, Karn Sharma, Shahbaz Ahmed and K. Gautam has been named.