For a major part in the run up to the 2019 World Cup, India’s bowling attack was the most enviable one in world cricket. Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar with the new ball followed by the emergence of the two wrist-spinners in Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav meant India were always on the lookout for wickets.
The key, however, was Hardik Pandya sending down seven overs on an average at under six runs per over in every match. Such has been his impact as an all-rounder, that he has been clubbed with Bumrah as the most treasured asset when it comes to workload management.
The Indian camp has made it amply clear that the 50-over format is nothing more than an obligation at this moment. But when Virat Kohli leads his team out in Pune for the deciding ODI against England on Sunday, the embarrassing prospect of a third consecutive ODI series loss will be running through the mind. This is where they need to take a call on Hardik’s availability as a seamer and if they are willing to risk another series citing future plans.
The lack of sixth bowler has hurt India in the last three ODI series. Hardik’s position as a No. 6 batsman is unquestionable but minus his bowling disrupts the balance of the ODI team.
Since Hardik’s comeback from a major back surgery, he has bowled 22 overs spread over four months and 13 international matches. 18 of those came in five T20Is against England this month. And the Indian team management has decided has red-flagged his role as a medium pacer. Captain Virat Kohli announced the team is wary of burning out Hardik in a year that has a World Test Championship final, five Tests in England and a T20 World Cup.
Indian cricket setup boasts of a robust workload management based on the minutest of data. The depth in the resources also enables the system to carry it out without much of an inhabitation. But it also throws up a question if the concerned player is made part of the decision ahead of a crucial match.
Former India pacer Ashish Nehra, an example of having career battling injuries, told TOI: “I know there’s a competent support staff. But the concerned player too needs to understand his body. If bowling just 18 overs in five games becomes disconcerting for Hardik then I can understand this decision. If Hardik isn’t complaining of anything then he could be bowled for four-five overs.”
With teams content with seeing off Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar at the top of the innings, the pressure falls squarely on the spinners unlike the pre-World Cup days. An efficient fifth-sixth bowling option is non-negotiable here.
“If Hardik has to play just as a batsmam then he has to bat higher to accommodate a sixth bowler. Krunal Pandya can’t be your fifth bowler. Kuldeep hasn’t played much and then there’s always inexperienced pacer partnering Bhuvneshwar or Bumrah,” Nehra reckoned.
India have been hit off their set plan in the last three ODI series. The lack of wickets with the new ball has literally rendered the spinners ineffective. Maybe the inclusion of Ravindra Jadeja can help them settle down. But it’s rather clear the backup plan, in case of unavailability of first choice players, hasn’t taken shape.
Sunday’s result may not bear a lot of significance in terms of numbers but a little bit of confidence going forward will not do any harm.