Why Hardik Pandya? The question has to be asked. Why four fast bowlers on Indian dustbowls? The point must be debated.
Yes, injuries to KL Rahul, Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma and Bhuvneshwar Kumar restricted the selectors’ options to some extent. Still, Pandya appears a surprise pick. In 16 first class matches, the Baroda all-rounder has scored 727 runs at 27.96. He is yet to hit a first class hundred and has taken only 22 wickets at 33.72. Is he good enough to play Test cricket?
The MSK Prasad-led selection committee has a logic to back the move. “Pandya’s pace has increased. He is moving the ball. His batsmanship has improved,” the chief selector said at the press conference.
Maybe, the selectors have thought long-term. Maybe, Pandya is the latest in the list of Indian cricket’s endless search for a seam-bowling all-rounder.
MS Dhoni always craved for a seaming all-rounder in the Test team, especially on overseas assignments. Virat Kohli, too, has preferred to incorporate one to strike the right balance. Stuart Binny was flown in to Sri Lanka last year. He had been part of the setup in West Indies this year. Pandya, who at times bowled at 140k during the recently concluded ODI series against New Zealand, trumped his nearest rival on form. If the selection committee wants to groom him with an eye to the future, the decision should be accepted.
Also, with Rohit ruled out for the entire five-Test series because of an upper thigh injury, Pandya’s inclusion presents the team management with a choice to pick horses for courses.
Karun Nair is expectedly in the squad as Rohit’s replacement. But if the team management wants to play an extra bowler without compromising on batting depth, Pandya could be called into action. The 15-member squad also has an extra spinner in Jayant Yadav. So the selectors have covered all the bases.
Kohli had opted for two fast bowlers and two spinners against the Kiwis but if he wants to go with three spinners against England, an in-form Amit Mishra is ready to roll his arm. In Yadav, India have a decent off-spin option.
As for selecting four quicks, it has been done keeping in mind the fast bowlers’ dodgy fitness records. About retaining Gautam Gambhir; it became a formality once injury rendered Rahul unavailable.