Hardik Pandya’s selection for the first two Test against England might have come as a surprise, especially with the Baroda all-rounder not yet ready to bowl in the longer format. But it has been learnt that BCCI wants to have Pandya and fast bowler Jasprit Bumrah in peak condition, going into the T20 World Cup later this year.
The team management wants to monitor Pandya’s fitness and progress towards being a key component of the bowling attack, and that’s why he has been included in the squad for the home Test series. He may not get into the playing eleven in the series starting on Friday, but the Board and the think tank are keen on him for the return series in England scheduled after the Indian Premier League (IPL).
However, the bigger picture is about the T20 World Cup to be hosted by India in October-November. Pandya and Bumrah are one-of-a-kind players who don’t have ready-made replacements. Pandya is a strong middle-order batsman and if fit to bowl, can be a useful seam-bowling option as well. As for Bumrah, he is the leader of the Indian fast-bowling attack, and his unique action, pace, accuracy, and variations make him arguably the best across formats in contemporary cricket.
For this reason, it has been decided not to overuse the two key assets in such a busy year. The team management and selection committee have come to a consensus not to play the two in every match, even when they are fit. Bumrah may even be rested during the four-Test home series against England if things go India’s way in the first few matches.
“His (Pandya’s) inclusion for the Test series is because the team management wanted to monitor his progress closely. They want him to be ready for the away England Test series as he will be handier in those conditions. There is no red-ball cricket in the domestic calendar this season, so this way, his bowling can also be monitored. With the T20 World Cup to be played down the year, we don’t want Pandya’s return to be a hasty one. A similar thought process has gone about Bumrah, and the team will use both of them wisely,” a BCCI official said.
Pandya played three ODIs and three T20Is on the recent tour of Australia where he showed what he could do as a batsman. He scored 90 and an unbeaten 92 in the one-dayers and played a crucial role in India’s T20I series victory. Bumrah has been a real asset with the ball in all formats and India doesn’t want to drain him out before the big ICC event.
Pandya had a back surgery in 2019 and has mostly played in the Indian team as a specialist batsman since. He didn’t bowl for Mumbai Indians in the 2020 IPL either. He bowled only four overs in the second ODI against Australia in Sydney. Pandya had remodelled his action and is working closely with former India pacer Zaheer Khan at Mumbai Indians.
For the Indian Test team, the middle order has options like Ajinkya Rahane, Hanuma Vihari, Rishabh Pant, and Mayank Agarwal while the selection committee has picked all-rounders Axar Patel, Washington Sundar, and R Ashwin for the first two England Tests. As far as the pace attack is concerned, Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav are yet to regain full fitness.