CHENNAI: With Hardik Pandya unlikely to be fit before the second week of November, there is a strong possibility that the all-rounder might not be considered for the Test series against Australia. Pandya, who suffered an acute lower back injury during the Asia Cup match against Pakistan on September 19, is expected to be fit by the time the first Test begins in Adelaide on December 6. But there seems to be apprehensions regarding his workload.
Since making ODI debut in October 2016, Pandya has featured in 42 of the 49 matches India have played. And since making an entry into the Test side in 2017, he has played 11 of the 17 matches including three in South Africa and four in England. Add 35 T20 Internationals, two IPL seasons and Pandya has been one of busiest players in the Indian side. His workload, especially in Test matches this year, has been rather huge. In South Africa he bowled 51 overs in three Tests. In four Tests in England, the figure was 64.1 overs. Apart from that, he was also part of the limited-over series where he bowled his full quota in the T20s and a further 22.3 overs out of a possible 30 in three ODIs.
Though the all-rounder went to the Asia Cup, it is understood his back injury was caused by the massive workload that his body has been taking over the last two years. “With Pandya expected to play a crucial role in the next year’s World Cup, he might not be considered for Tests for the time being, unless there is a definite need,” is how sources put it.
The Indian team management clearly sees Pandya as an asset irrespective of formats, but looking at the bigger picture, there seems to be a belief that managing his workload is of utmost importance. Though his performance in Tests so far has not been headline-grabbing — apart from a five-wicket haul in Nottingham which helped India win the Test — he is often banked upon to bowl those defensive overs when the frontline pacers are tired. It is a job he has seldom shied away from and bowling coach Bharathi Arun in an interview with Express earlier this year had highlighted how this goes unnoticed in the overall picture.
If Pandya is left out of the Tests in Australia, the team management is aware how it will affect its dynamics. Captain Virat Kohli has preferred to play five batsmen and banked on Pandya in the lower-order. Though he hasn’t got the desired results, it has allowed the team to strengthen its bowling arsenal.
But, against the current Australian side — whose batting isn’t the best — presents India with a good chance to rest Pandya. Although leaving out a pace-bowling all-rounder is not what the team would ideally need in Australia, the selectors seem to be thinking of Tamil Nadu all-rounder Vijay Shankar as a potential replacement for the four-match series.
Although there is a T20 series that precedes the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, Pandya is likely to make a comeback only for the ODI series, which will commence in the second week of January.