As Hardik Pandya's World Cup ends, trial by fire looms for India's pace trinity
It’s Pandya’s bowling and energy, more than his multi-hued batting, that India will miss, transferring onus on the pace trio of Bumrah, Mohammed Siraj and Shami
Having given the impression all along that it was a matter of when rather than whether Hardik Pandya would return to action, India threw a curveball on Saturday morning, drafting Prasidh Krishna in as replacement for the injured all-rounder, whose World Cup is now officially over.
Pandya had twisted his left ankle on his follow through in his first over against Bangladesh in Pune on October 19. After multiple scans, the injury wasn’t deemed too serious, though the prognosis did change a little thereafter. Even so, there was little indication that his recovery wasn’t progressing along expected lines. As recently as on Wednesday, the eve of India’s clash against Sri Lanka in Mumbai, skipper Rohit Sharma had said, “Whatever procedure he had to undergo after the injury, at the NCA, there were a lot of positive things. It is an injury that we have to see every day how much percent he has improved, how much recovery has been made, how much bowling has been done, how much batting has been done. It's possible we'll get a chance to see him as soon as possible. That's all I can say for now.”
At the time of writing, there was no word from the Board of Control for Cricket in India on the sequence of events leading to a replacement being sought for the all-rounder, a key component of the squad given that he is nearly three players rolled into one.
India have played – and won – their last three games without Pandya, against New Zealand, England and Sri Lanka. In a way, therefore, they had prepared themselves for life without the 30-year-old, perhaps aware within the group that he might not be available for the rest of the competition while putting on a brave public face. But the finality of the reality will take some time to sink in. Pandya is a rare commodity in Indian cricket, a genuine pace-bowling all-rounder who can more than hold his own with both the bat and the ball. It might be stating the obvious, but he lends balance to the side and his presence often facilitates, if the conditions so demand, India going in with an additional spinner.
That it took two players to replace Pandya in the playing XI isn’t lost on anyone. To compensate for the loss of his batting prowess, India had to plump for a specialist batter at No. 6 in Suryakumar Yadav. Mohammed Shami, a specialist pacer, was roped in with the focus shifting unequivocally towards wicket-taking. Out therefore went Shardul Thakur, handy in both disciplines but not quite good enough to hold his place in the side on the back of just one of them alone. The inclusion of Suryakumar and Shami meant India went in with a long tail – hardly any runs in the last four – and only five bowlers, with not one of the top six batters capable of bowling more than a couple of cursory overs, if that.
It hasn’t really had an adverse impact yet. For large pockets of New Zealand’s innings in Dharamsala, it appeared as if the lack of a sixth bowling option might come back to hurt India, with the Kiwi batters going after Kuldeep Yadav’s left-arm wrist-spin. Shami, however, ensured New Zealand didn’t get to the 300-plus total they had threatened, with a sensational final burst that netted him a five-for and kept Tom Latham’s men down to 273.
Against England in Lucknow and Sri Lanka in Wankhede, India’s pacers were awe-inspiring, blasting through the batting line-ups to bowl them out for 129 and 55 respectively. Their first real test, one suspects, will come on Sunday in Kolkata against South Africa, who have posted 300-plus scores five times in seven innings, including a tournament-high 428. If one of the five bowlers has an off-day, which is very much possible, India have no one reliable to turn to, a chastening prospect heading into the semifinals. It’s Pandya’s bowling and energy, more than his multi-hued batting, that India will miss, transferring the onus on the pace trio of Bumrah, Mohammed Siraj and Shami, and left-arm spinners Kuldeep and Ravindra Jadeja, to fuse economy with penetration.
Pandya came into the World Cup with the promise of being to the 2023 squad what Yuvraj Singh was to the victorious 2011 campaign. Now, his campaign is over; there is not even the comforting thought anymore that at some stage, he will be back in the mix. How India cope with this new reality remains to be seen.
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