Updated: April 15, 2021 9:22:04 am
Hardik Pandya not bowling in Mumbai Indians’ (MI) Indian Premier League (IPL) opener against Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) raised a few eyebrows. On the night, when the defending champions didn’t have enough runs to play with and leg-spinner Rahul Chahar went for plenty, MI missed a sixth bowler. Was Pandya injured? Was it about his workload management? It would be interesting to see if Pandya bowls in the next match against Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR).
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Why didn’t Hardik Pandya bowl against RCB?
During the match, Pandya was seen throwing underarm and at the post-match press conference, MI opener Chris Lynn dropped a hint about Pandya not being fully fit. “I’m not 100 per cent sure, but it’s a bit of a shoulder niggle. I think Hardik Pandya not bowling is maybe more precautionary. He has played a fair bit of cricket leading up to this tournament, in which he has to play (a minimum) 14 games as well. So you don’t want to throw your eggs in one basket and risk injury,” Lynn told reporters.
MI director of cricket operations Zaheer Khan also confirmed that Pandya had had a shoulder issue. “There was a little bit of a shoulder concern but I don’t think it is worrisome. You will see him bowl very soon. We are very confident that he will be chipping in with the ball in his hand as well,” Zaheer said.
Pandya bowled 17 overs in the five T20Is against England with an impressive economy rate of less than seven runs per over. In the final ODI against England, he bowled nine overs and conceded less than six runs per over in a high-scoring game. It was a kind of outing that encouraged the assumption that fitness issues were behind India’s rare pace all-rounder and going forward he would bowl regularly. But the “shoulder niggle”, if it is serious, will not augur well both for his IPL franchise and the Indian team.
Why Hardik Pandya needs to be handled with care
The 27-year-old has a dodgy fitness record. Three years ago, during an Asia Cup match against Pakistan, he was stretchered off after missing his footing on his follow-through. The BCCI would later inform that he had an acute lower-back injury. In October 2019, he underwent a successful back surgery in London and although he played last year’s IPL, he turned up solely as a batsman. Between November last year and until the end of the international season in March this year, Pandya played six ODIs and eight T20Is. Against England, however, he bowled with a tweaked action, thrice completing his quota in five T20Is. “I have been working on fine-tuning my action,” Pandya told the official broadcaster after the T20I series.
India will play the World Test Championship final against New Zealand after the IPL followed by a five-Test series in England. The ICC T20 World Cup is scheduled later this year. So Pandya’s workload management has become imperative, for he is the only genuine pace-bowling allrounder in the Indian team.
“Hardik as a whole package is always of great value, everyone knows that. It was a workload-related thing in the previous game. He bowled in the whole England series, in the last ODI he bowled about nine overs and that is why in consultation with the physio, we had to take that approach,” Zaheer said.
Why does Pandya have lower-back issues?
It is basically down to his body. He had started off as a medium pacer before graduating to fast-medium, around 135kph-plus. Although Pandya is very agile and has gained more muscle mass through strength and conditioning drills, he is not as strongly-built as someone like Ben Stokes for example. Fast bowling is serious toil and puts a huge amount of pressure on the back, hips, knees and ankles.
How important would be Pandya’s bowling for India going ahead?
He was part of the Test squad for the home series against England, notwithstanding that the matches were played on rank turners and he didn’t get a game. The home series was his bedding-in process following his return to the Test fold, an opportunity to work with the Indian team support staff with an eye to the away series in England. A bowling-fit Pandya would fill the fourth seamer’s slot on greener pitches, in seaming conditions. His presence would be important for the balance of the side. Washington Sundar took to Test cricket like a duck to water after Ravindra Jadeja suffered a thumb fracture in Australia. But an additional spin-bowling allrounder would be a luxury in England, while Pandya, if he could bowl at least 15-16 overs a day, becomes a shoo-in.
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