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Pandya needs to perform

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Hardik_Pandya_India_cricket_ODIJust days after their gruelling tour to South Africa came to a successful end, the Indian Cricket Team will be seen in action in the Nidahas Trophy – a T20I tri-series that will be held in Sri Lanka featuring the Men in Blue, the hosts and Bangladesh.

Many regular players like Virat Kohli, Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar have been rested for the short series, keeping in mind their hectic schedules and the excessive workload that was borne by them in the recently-concluded tour of the Rainbow Nation. While MS Dhoni has asked to be excused, citing personal reasons, Kuldeep Yadav has been given a break to recuperate from an injury that he suffered in the limited over games.

What really caught attention was the omission of Hardik Pandya from the tour. Chief selector MSK Prasad said that the workloads of the players should be managed well ahead of what will be a gruelling year ahead for the Indians, but by resting a young Pandya, who was only recently given a break from the Tests against Sri Lanka late last year, the message being sent out is not a convincing one.

It is no secret that ever since a desperate bid by Greg Chappell brought an unceremonious end to Irfan Pathan’s international career, the Indian team has been on the lookout for a seaming all-rounder who can play as the fifth bowler and bring the long handle to good use in the death overs. Players like Stuart Binny were given long ropes, and even though spinning all-rounders were available in plenty, a fast bowling one who could perform consistently on the international stage remained missing.

Maybe that is why Pandya’s entry excited one and all. He first set the stage on fire in the IPL where he demolished oppositions for the Mumbai Indians and slowly but surely, after winning over captain Kohli’s confidence, he cemented his place in the Tests and the limited overs sides. If his heroics with the bat in the Champions Trophy Finals against Pakistan pushed him to instant fame, the century in his maiden Test series in Sri Lanka convinced the management that he was here to stay. The flamboyant player bowled at an average of 20 in his maiden Test outing. As is the norm in a country like India, the comparisons with Kapil Dev soon followed.

From June 2017 to November 2017 he played 22 ODIs, 3 Test matches and 5 T20Is – second only to Kohli’s turnouts. When he asked for a break from the Tests against Sri Lanka, it was readily given to him. His was an important role in South Africa, where wickets were expected to be on the seaming side, and by allowing him that break, the Board only highlighted his importance in the squad.

 

Very few youngsters would have the confidence to request for a rest so early on in their careers, but Pandya had been convinced that his spot in the side was safe, and would be duly handed over to him once he returned.

 

Yes, he deserved the rest then. It was obvious that all the focus was on the trip to South Africa and that the essential players were to be given time out to rejuvenate. Sri Lanka were hardly seen as competitors and challengers while the Proteas were. To beat them in their own den required players who were fit and raring to go.

But then why was he given a rest again after just one series? The team will after all be playing just 4 T20Is in Sri Lanka, excluding the Finals, if they make that.

In South Africa, in the 3 Tests, Pandya faced 173 deliveries, scoring 119 runs – of which he faced 95 balls and scored 93 in the first innings of the first Test alone. He bowled 51 overs in 6 innings, an average of 8.5 overs per innings, and he picked up 3 wickets at a dismal average of 54. In the ODIs, he bowled 44 overs in 6 innings, with 4 wickets and an average of 54. With the bat, he was even more pathetic – scoring just 26 runs in 4 innings at an average of 8.66.

Surely, those numbers hardly inspire confidence in a player who is expected to be a mainstay in the line-up. That is why when the Baroda player was rested, it was met with criticisms and questions.

 

Has the youngster gained such prominence in the squad that no matter his performances, he has the luxury of occupying a spot in the middle order? Shouldn’t he have been in the team for the Nidahas Trophy so he could have another chance to improve his performances, albeit in the T20 format? Or is he already in the same league as Bhuvneshwar, Kohli and Bumrah, who really had a hectic tour AND pitched in with crucial performances throughout the long series in both the formats?

 

If that is indeed the case, what message is being sent to Pandya and other players who are waiting in the wings?

What makes the above argument even more bizarre is that Rohit Sharma, who has been on the road ever since the Tests against Sri Lanka, was asked to lead the side and was not given the break. He too had a long and an unsuccessful tour of Africa and, unlike Pandya, he and Shikhar Dhawan are being sent to Lanka.

Clearly, if the selectors were stressing over managing the workloads of the players, the two ODI openers should have been in the fray. Moreover, they have cemented their spot in the Indian side in limited overs through consistent performances, something that Pandya has yet been unable to chip in with.

Maybe the Indian management is just relieved that they have finally found a player that they had always been searching for. Fielding a bowling all-rounder clearly seems more important to them than the fact that the player in question has not been that effective in the recent past.

By giving him a break along with the well-established players, the selectors clearly are sending out a message of Pandya’s importance, despite his performances. In the long run, this might evoke a sense of complacency and over-confidence in the blue-streaked hair cricketer.

 

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