All eyes will be on the all-rounder Hardik Pandya as he returns to competitive cricket after being out of action since September due to a back injury. Pandya will be playing for Baroda against Mumbai in league game of Ranji Trophy at the Wankhede Stadium from Friday. The 25-year-old had suffered a lower-back spasm during the high-octance Asia Cup match against Pakistan, and had to miss the subsequent home series against West Indies and the Test tour of Australia.
Pandya will have to prove his match fitness before the selectors consider him fit for the ODI series in Australia that begin next month. His condition was being closely monitored by the BCCI and was also asked to prove his fitness at the National Cricket Academy in Bangalore last week.
Pandya turned up for Baroda’s practice session on Wednesday evening where he bowled nearly five overs. On Thursday, however, he skipped practice but did join his teammates for a routine team meeting. The fitness of Pandya, the lone star attraction in this round of domestic cricket, will be monitored by the BCCI’s medical team. Will he be asked to go all-out or will he be preserved for the upcoming national duties, remains to be seen.
“It all depends on the situation, how much we need him,” Baroda’s captain Kedar Devdhar said. “Obviously, he is an India regular, so we will obviously want him more but at the same time, since he has just recovered from an injury, if the situation doesn’t demand, it won’t make sense to stretch him. If we have to preserve him, it’ll be a sort of a disadvantage but we are happy that we can use him,” Devdhar said.
At the moment though, the Baroda team management did not receive any instruction from the board with regards to Pandya’s workload. The Indian team management has already spoken about how Pandya is crucial for the balance he provides to the team. Even though all eyes will be on second Test at Perth, back in Mumbai, selectors will be closely monitoring Pandya’s return with the red ball.
Ravi Shastri, India’s coach, has talked about how his absence has affected the team. “One player we’ll really miss is Hardik Pandya, who’s had an injury because he gives that balance to the side as a bowler and a batsman which allows you to play that extra bowler. Now we’ve got to think twice, but hopefully our fast bowlers do well and we don’t miss him that much,” Shastri said before the Adelaide Test.
Indian captain Virat Kohli too had spoken about the impact of Pandya. “Losing the all-rounder obviously has an impact. I mean every side would like to have a fast-bowling all-rounder, which we don’t have right now with Hardik (Pandya) injured. That obviously is a great luxury to have for any side, but the workload on guys who will play in the absence of Pandya will be high.”
Meanwhile, a young Mumbai team is yet to find the right combination this season. The selection committee had taken a tough stand by dropping Suryakumar Yadav, and preferring to blood youngsters.
Shreyas Iyer, who landed from New Zealand on Thursday, has been asked to to shore up Mumbai’s batting. Mumbai are currently languishing second-last in the Group A table, having earned just five points from four games, while Baroda with 13 points are placed third.
Mumbai will hope for a change in fortunes but considering seven players are in their debut season, it’s not going to be an easy task.