The Indian selectors have been fretting over the fitness of all-rounder Hardik Pandya, with Friday being the deadline to make changes to the Twenty20 World Cup squad. Pandya, who has been grappling with a back injury, did not bowl in IPL 2021 for Mumbai Indians. Chief selector Chetan Sharma had said that Pandya was fully fit to bowl his full quota when India's World Cup squad was picked in early September.
The selectors are hoping that Pandya will regain fitness and will be able to bowl at least a few overs in the World Cup. Why are the selectors desperate to retain Pandya in the Indian squad? The answer is they feel Pandya is a genuine match-winner with the bat. Pandya has played as a specialist batter for Team India in the past. His 22-ball unbeaten 42 had powered the Men in Blue to a series win in the second T20I against Australia in Sydney last December. The wise men reckon India need Pandya's explosive hitting in the death overs as Virat Kohli & Co. hope to end India's title drought in ICC events.
K L Rahul and Rohit Sharma are expected to open in the World T20 with Kohli coming in at No 3. Suryakumar Yadav and Rishabh Pant could bat at No. 4 and No. 5 with Pandya and all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja expected to provide the late flourish.
The past few months have been tough for Pandya. He looked a pale shadow of his former self in the white-ball tour of Sri Lanka and struggled in the UAE leg of IPL 2021. But the Indian think tank and selectors are fully aware of Pandya's value. They believe he's one innings away from hitting top form.
India are expected to field a couple of seamers in Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar plus three spinners, Jadeja being a certainty, in the World Cup. If the five bowlers can do the job, Pandya won't be needed to chip in with the ball.
Chennai Super Kings' Shardul Thakur could replace Pandya if he's not fully fit.
One can only hope that a half-fit Pandya is not drafted into the squad as it could backfire big time.