‘What can be’ favours Pandya more than ‘what is’ before T20 World Cup selection

Hardik Pandya for the Mumbai Indians.
Hardik Pandya for the Mumbai Indians. (Source: X)

The one who used to be an automatic choice might become a subject of deliberation, when the national selectors pick the squad for the T20 World Cup. Hardik Pandya was indispensable and the captain in this format when he last played for India. Eight months on and recent performance not up to the mark, reputation is his biggest USP before the marquee biennial.

Returning to mainstream action after sustaining an injury in the 50-over World Cup last October, the Indian Premier League (IPL) was the stage for Pandya to dispel doubts. The Mumbai Indians skipper has flattered to deceive so far, quite like his team. Compared to the player opening the bowling and dealing telling blows with the bat last season for Gujarat Titans, on show has been a lookalike.

Because the IPL is not strictly a selection trial for a proven performer and is sometimes an opportunity to assess the condition of a player, the selectors may not read too much into these outings. Chances are high that Pandya will make it to the XV for the T20 World Cup. But for that, ‘what was’ and ‘what can be’ will have to be given preference over ‘what is’.

Pandya is special in the context of Indian cricket, because he is the only one in the country, who can clock a decent pace with the ball and crunch it with the bat. Ability to make an impact in twin roles makes him one of his kind, in a team craving for a fast-bowling all-rounder. Despite fitness-related ups and downs, he became synonymous with this format and led India in 13 T20Is last year.

That sharpness with the ball and sting with the bat has gone missing in IPL 2024. There have been a few cameos at No. 5, 6 and 7 and his strike-rate is 142-plus. Yet, he hasn’t really dictated terms, which made him inseparable from India’s T20 plans. Pandya took the new ball and brought himself on in the later stages, but he conceded at more than 10 per over and seldom caused trouble.

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Hardik Pandya is struggling to find his footing at MI.
Hardik Pandya is struggling to find his footing at MI. (Source: X.com)

This might become a concern for the selectors and the team management. For Pandya, to be in the team, he has to deliver with bat and ball. The team doesn’t expect bits and pieces from him. Because he has been a match-winner in the lower-middle order, the hopes are always high. In bowling, his job is not to just contain but also take wickets. India need him for both functions.

Even the most optimistic at the moment would proclaim that Pandya is not there yet and trying to get back to where he was. He was out of match practice for four months and there is a history of injuries. Coming straight into a demanding format and performing instantly is asking for too much. It may take a bit of time to shake off the rust, get going and be back at one’s best.

Given that the younger of the Pandya siblings has been the decisive factor in some challenging bilateral engagements, like in Australia in 2020-21, the selectors would like to go with him if he is deemed fit for the grind. Runs and wickets in IPL 2024 are unlikely to become the only yardsticks for selection. That’s fair enough, considering the damage Pandya can do in quick time.

This means the selectors will take the all-rounder’s past into account while penning his name in. It’s not as illustrious or long as Virat Kohli’s or Rohit Sharma’s, but the dual ability gives him an edge. This also means Pandya will be under greater scrutiny and hence pressure for the rest of IPL 2024. If the graph doesn’t head north, there is a risk of carrying an off-colour player to the World Cup.

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