India were dealt a huge blow in their ongoing Test battle against Australia with opener Prithvi Shaw being ruled out of the remainder of the series but the visitors were handed some good news in the form of Hardik Pandya’s return to the squad.
The all-rounder has been out of action since September when he sustained a lower back injury in the Asia Cup. But his return for the final two Tests of the series could bring a much needed boost for the tourists.
The lack of an all-round option in the pace department has been felt dearly by India in the Test series, especially in the ongoing Test at Perth. Tempted by the pace and bounce on offer in the pitch, skipper Virat Kohli opted to field a bowling unit comprising entirely of fast bowlers.
With Ravichandran Ashwin being ruled out of the Test due to an injury, Kohli resisted the temptation of having another spinner with Umesh Yadav being given his first game on the tour. Heading into the final day of the Test, the Indian captain will be ruing his decision with Australia’s star off-spinner Nathan Lyon showing his worth on a fast-crumbling pitch.
Despite the assistance for pacers on the pitch, it has been the Aussie off-spinner who has been the pick of all bowlers with a five-wicket haul in the first innings and a further two already in the second.
Had Pandya been available, Kohli could very well have fielded a four-man pace attack with Ravindra Jadeja or Kuldeep Yadav also in the bowling attack.
As such, Pandya’s return to the side is a welcome sign for the visitors given the balance it provides. With the pitches in Sydney and Melbourne traditionally being the most spin-friendly tracks in Australia, India will definitely need to field a slower bowler and Pandya’s return could be crucial in that regard.
Pandya’s ability to chip in with handy runs lower down the order will give Kohli a reason to smile. India’s lower-order has failed with the bat so far in the series and Pandya could fill a gaping hole in that aspect.
Pandya showed his all-round worth in his only competitive game so far since his injury return in the Ranji Trophy clash between Baroda and Mumbai. The 25-year-old picked up seven wickets in total including a five-wicket haul while scoring 73 runs with the bat.
However, despite Pandya’s return to the squad, India will need to be wary as to how they handle his fitness. A back injury to a fast-bowler is always a tricky one to manage as India learnt the hard way with Bhuvneshwar Kumar during their summer tour of England.
Rushing Bhuvneshwar back from injury in the ODI series proved costly for Kohli’s men in the end with the seamer being ruled out of the entire Test series.
Pandya has only played one first-class game since returning to full fitness and India will want to ensure they don’t rush him back in haste with the World Cup to come in the summer next year.
Kohli and Co will certainly need to walk a tightrope with Pandya in the next two Tests.
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