A package impossible to replace, India minus Hardik Pandya won’t be the same force at World Cup
Hardik Pandya travelled to Bengaluru and the National Cricket Academy, where he will rehab for the next few days before reuniting with the squad.
It was around 2.45 pm, but the time seemed immaterial. Indeed, time seemed to stand still at the MCA International Stadium in Pune as a tidal wave of worry swept through the Indian ranks on Thursday.
Hardik Pandya, as vital a component of the well-oiled Indian World Cup machine as any, had just pulled up short on his followthrough, twisting his left ankle in an abortive bid to cut off a straight drive from Liton Das, the Bangladesh opener. It was only Pandya’s third delivery of the league clash. As it turned out, it was also his left delivery of the innings, his final act of the game.
After a long break that involved the physio taping up the offending ankle and Pandya gingerly attempting to get through a shadow delivery, the vice-captain hobbled off the park, grimacing in pain. He was rushed to the hospital for scans and returned to the ground, prepared to bat if the need arose. Fortunately for him, the top five did more than enough to ensure Pandya wasn’t forced to come out and save the day.
It has since been confirmed that the all-rounder will miss Sunday’s top-of-the-table clash against New Zealand in Dharamsala. While the rest of the contingent flew out on Friday to the city nestled at the foothills of the Himalayas, Pandya travelled to Bengaluru and the National Cricket Academy, where he will rehab for the next few days before reuniting with the squad – as things stand now – in Lucknow ahead of the match on October 29 against England.
Pandya is a rare breed in Indian cricket, a genuine fast-bowling all-rounder. Ravindra Jadeja, Axar Patel, R Ashwin and even Washington Sundar slot in as spinning all-rounders, but over the years, there has been a remarkable dearth of players who can bowl handy medium-pace and are competent with the bat. For a country that has so many resources to summon, it’s amazing how the quest for an all-rounder of this ilk has borne only sporadic fruit. That’s one of the reasons why, despite his supreme profligacy with the ball, India have persisted with Shardul Thakur, at best a poor man’s Pandya.
The legendary Kapil Dev had whetted India’s appetite for a true all-rounder with his heroics in all three disciplines for nearly a decade and a half. It was inevitable, once he retired in 1994, that the quest to unearth the next Kapil would begin, though Kapil was a once-in-a-generation player and cricketers like him don’t just crop up at the drop of a hat. At various stages, Ajit Agarkar, the current chairman of selectors, and Irfan Pathan were propped up as potential successors; India also tried, half-heartedly, to manufacture seaming all-rounders through Vijay Shankar, Venkatesh Iyer and Shivam Dube at a time when one wasn’t sure what the future held for Pandya, given his prolonged issues with his back.
Pandya’s return to full fitness, which has encouraged him to bowl at 140 kmph regularly, was the biggest short in the arm for India in the year or so leading up to the World Cup. He might not always be a ten-over bowler, but he is smart and canny and a far improved version of the Pandya that once believed that the only way to get wickets was to test out the bounce in the pitch. At No. 6, he provides class and firepower, gifted with the ability to read situations and react accordingly; he is a leader in his own right apart from being a top fielder. It’s a package impossible to replace.
You can’t really have a contingency plan for a development such as what happened in Pune, simply because there isn’t another Pandya in sight. Dharmasala will offer a hint of what tack India will adopt when Pandya isn’t available – everyone invested in Indian cricket will hope that’s just temporary – and how much the balance of the side will be affected without the 30-year-old Gujarat Titans skipper.
India won’t be unaware of the dangers of rushing Pandya back when he isn’t 100% ready. The roaring start to their campaign will offer India great leeway. They already have one foot in the last four even if that is not a guarantee at this stage, and there is enough class and quality for them to close ranks and compensate for life minus Pandya for the time being. The tireless medical staff knows that as the tournament winds towards the business end, India minus Pandya won’t be the same force; that will be their added incentive for his speedy rehabilitation.
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