India’s search for the next Kapil Dev has been ongoing for a few years now. Only recently did the talent of Hardik Pandya as a seam-bowling all-rounder come to the fore. While a few did come and go, the Baroda lad managed to make a lasting impression.
Seven wickets in eight matches are not figures one would flaunt after two years of playing Test cricket. For Hardik, curiously, the tally has meant little as comparisons with Dev still swirl around.
It’s with the bat that Hardik, the all-rounder, has had made his most significant impact. In his nascent career as a Test cricketer, the 24-year-old has scored 421 runs at an average of 35.08.
Comparisons with greats of the game need to be treated with the sensitivity it deserves. Pandya still remains yards behind the India great, both in terms of experience and accomplishments. While Hardik is still an integral part of the current Indian set up helmed by Virat Kohli, it has not been easy going.
In the first Test of the ongoing series against England, Pandya was utilised for just 10 overs and remained wicketless. In fact, he failed to pick up a wicket during India’s practice game against Essex as well.
Hardik, in fact, has always been used sparingly by Kohli. For a player to be compared to Kapil, Hardik has had no real success with the ball. With the bat too a lot of ground is still to be made.
Forget Kapil; in England so far, Hardik is being completely upstaged by England all-rounder Ben Stokes, who despite facing trouble off the field, produced an impressive performance in the second innings of the previous game.
Unlike Hardik, Stokes as an all-rounder is more of a bowling option. That he is part of the team’s pace battery makes him more valuable than Hardik, who by coming down the order is hardly seen as a batsman of choice. As a bowler too he is used as a stop-gap option by Kohli.
To put it in perspective, Stokes bowled as many as 33.2 overs compared to Hardik’s tally of 10 in the match.
Ahead of the second Test, bowling coach Bharat Arun went as far as saying that Hardik’s limited quota of overs was a positive.
“The less Hardik bowls, it augurs well for the team because it means other [specialist] bowlers have done very well,” he said during the pre-match post conference prior to the Lord’s Test.
“I am not taking any credit from Hardik. But he did an exceptionally good job for us in South Africa and I don’t see any reason why he shouldn’t come to the party here,” he added.
That Hardik is a talented cricketer is not under dispute. His knack of changing the complexion of the game have already made fans out of many. However, despite the reputation, the lack of real game time does bring his role in the side under the scanner.
In a side where each spot is keenly contested, Hardik is more or less getting a free ride despite not facing pressure either as a bowler or a batsman.
In the Edgbaston Test, India chose to go with just a lone spinner and three pacers. With Hardik also in the mix India effectively had four pace options. And with the wicket favouring turn, it later emerged that the team could have done with an extra spinner.
Replacing Hardik and making this change for the game at Lord’s is one of the many choices that Kohli can opt for. However, it would mean going against a set policy that the skipper has adopted in the last few months, where the role of a seam-bowling all-rounder has been non-negotiable. Despite the limited utilisation of the role, Kohli prefers to keep an all-rounder ready at his disposal.
To change such a mindset would be difficult, but with India already trailing in the series may be it is the right time to make crucial changes.
Kohli has already hinted that the team management could go for two spinners at Lord’s, where a dry and hard wicket is likely to be on offer. The inclusion of left-arm wrist spinner Kuldeep Yadav might just turn out to be the right change for India against an English side that just edged ahead in Birmingham.
After the below-par performance of the batters in the first Test, it is unlikely that India will reduce the number of batsmen in the line-up. If an extra spinner has to be introduced it will be at the expense of one of the bowlers.
Pacers Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav and Mohammed Shami performed well in their duties in the first Test and deserve another chance. Spinner R Ashwin was one of India’s standout bowlers at Edgbaston. As such only Hardik’s spot seems shaky in the lower order.
Kohli needs to reassess his need for a seam-bowling all-rounder. If his pacers are doing a good enough job with the ball then they need not desist from using a second spinner for want of a seam-bowling all-rounder. It is a tricky decision to make, but with the series still in balance it might just be the right move to make.