Dubai: Will he, won’t he? The question mark over Indian allrounder Hardik Pandya’s availability as bowler continues to raise a debate as Virat Kohli’s men had been quietly going about their preparations for a must-win tie against New Zealand in the ICC T20 World Cup at the Dubai International Stadium on Sunday.
There was a silver lining, however, on Wednesday evening when Pandya bowled for close to 20 minutes at the nets at the ICC Academy - possibly for the first time since he bowled in the white ball series in Sri Lanka in July. The Mumbai Indians allrounder did not bowl a single over during their campaign in IPL in the UAE, when members of the team management had repeatedly stonewalled queries on Pandya’s bowling as they maintained they would take a decision keeping in mind Pandya’s benefits.
It is no secret that Pandya, who was perceived as the answer to India’s long search for the seam bowling allrounder across all formats, had suffered a serious back injury during the 2018 Asia Cup in the UAE. He had undergone a surgery in England and had been out of international cricket for a better part of 2019 and ever since his comeback, a question mark has always remained about his abilities as a bowler.
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In the run-up to the ongoing World T20, a pertinent question about his availability as a bowler was often raised - with suggestions of him being replaced by Shardul Thakur who had a decent run with Chennai Super Kings in the IPL. However, skipper Virat Kohli maintained in their press conference before the Pakistan game that Pandya is their quintessential number six - bowling or no bowling.
As things panned out in the big game, Pandya did not get enough balls with the bat during their 10-wicket defeat to Pakistan but one had a feeling that he could have been an option as the sixth bowler by taking the pace off the ball when Babar Azam and Mohammed Rizwan were milking the Indian bowling with the ball coming on to the bat nicely during the chase in the evening.
While no official line will be forthcoming till the pre-match press conference till Saturday, Pandya’s bowling at the nets raises prospects of him giving India the much needed sixth bowling option. Incidentally, Pandya had also hurt his shoulder while batting against Pakistan and did not take the field after India’s innings as he had to go for scan.
On Wednesday, Pandya went through fitness drills, which included short sprints, under the watchful eyes of strength and conditioning coach Sohum Desai and physio Nitin Patel.India chief coach Ravi Shastri and mentor Mahendra Singh Dhoni closely monitored Hardik’s bowling as he bowled to Bhuvaneshwar Kumar and Shardul Thakur.