CHENNAI: The participation of all-rounder Hardik Pandya in the T20 World Cup hangs in the balance as concerns remain over his fitness. The 27-year-old didn't play the first two matches for Mumbai Indians in the UAE, before making a comeback for Sunday's match against Royal Challengers Bangalore. However, Pandya didn't bowl leading to questions over his fitness.
India have already named their squad for the T20 World Cup, which begins on October 17. And while announcing the squad, chairman of selectors Chetan Sharma had said Pandya was fully fit and he would be able to bowl his quota of overs at the World Cup.
Since then, there hasn't been any update on the all-rounder's fitness. Even when he missed the first two matches of the UAE leg, Mumbai Indians' bowling coach Shane Bond said they are trying to balance the needs of the Indian team without getting into the specifics.
"We're obviously balancing the needs of our team and the needs of team India as well. It's the one thing that this franchise does really well... is look after its players with an eye not only to win this competition but an eye to the World Cup that’s coming up as well," Bond said.
While Bond did concede that the all-rounder has been training since September 23, it is understood that the selectors and the Indian team management are keeping a close tab on his fitness. Ever since he underwent a back surgery in 2020, Pandya hasn’t bowled as regularly as he used to.
During the Australia tour, Pandya bowled four overs in the second ODI against the advise of the team management, who wanted to gradually increase his workload keeping in mind the T20 World Cup. By the time India hosted England at home in February-March, Pandya bowled regularly in the T20Is.
He completed his quota of four overs in three matches and bowled two and three overs in two matches. In the ODIs that followed, he didn’t bowl in the first two matches, before sending down 9 overs in the third. When the IPL began in India, he didn’t bowl in any of the seven matches as he was managing his workload.
During the Sri Lanka tour in July, he bowled five, four and five overs in the three ODIs and two overs in the lone T20I before missing the final two as he was identified as a close contact of his brother Krunal Pandya, who had tested COVID-19 positive.
So Pandya picking and choosing matches where he bowls isn't entirely new as it has been the norm for a while as he is managing his workload. But with the World Cup looming, it is beginning to be a cause of concern. Being a seam-bowling all-rounder, Pandya is a crucial part of India's plan as he gives them the right balance. However, in case he isn’t able to bowl, it would massively affect the team’s plans.
It is understood that India are prepared to wait and watch as there is a provision to change the squad before October 10. Even if he doesn't bowl in the remaining matches for Mumbai, India will retain him in the T20 squad only if he is able to bowl his full quota of overs. If not, India might look at Shardul Thakur or Shreyas Iyer as alternatives.