With less than a month to go in the T20 World Cup, India have only six T20Is to play in the build-up to the marquee ICC event. The Men in Blue will play a three-match series against Australia, starting on Tuesday, September 20, before locking horns with South Africa in three T20Is and as many ODIs.
With games coming in thick and fast, Team India will want to make sure they field their best 11 as much as possible without risking significant injuries and niggles. An injury to Ravindra Jadeja during the Asia Cup 2022 has given the side an early setback in the build-up to the T20 World Cup.
The injury to one of India’s best all-rounders will only demand more responsibility from their other all-rounder, Hardik Pandya. When fully fit, there’s no doubt that the Gujarat Titans (GT) captain is the team’s most prized asset.
So here are three reasons why Hardik should play all the remaining T20Is before the World Cup.
#1 Fine-tuning the playing XI
After an Asia Cup 2022 campaign that didn’t go to plan, it’ll be interesting to see if India stick with their plans. With six T20Is to play before they head to Australia for the T20 World Cup, the team management will want to nail down their first 11 and give them the freedom to execute their plans on the field.
In the build-up to the a major tournament, most teams would like to have the opportunity to test themselves and their plans out against the best sides in the world. Against Australia and South Africa, the hosts have two formidable opponents who will prove to be a test.
Hardik is expected to be a nailed-on starter for India, barring any injuries. With the balance he brings to the side, one would expect him to play all the games, even if India look to tinker with other options, such as Virat Kohli opening the batting or playing Dinesh Karthik and Rishabh Pant in the playing XI.
#2 India could need Hardik to contribute with the ball regularly
With India opting to go with three seamers, a spinner and two all-rounders in the team, the all-rounders will have to chip in for a total of four overs. Given the conditions in Australia, India might not be able to rely on their two spin options, which might be Yuzvendra Chahal and Axar Patel/Deepak Hooda/Ravichandran Ashwin.
In either scenario, it will be Hardik who will need to step up and deliver four overs in case the spinners have an ordinary outing. In 14 T20Is for India in 2022, the all-rounder has bowled out his quota of four overs six times. The encouraging sign, though, was that he did so thrice in the Asia Cup 2022, which suggests he might be fit enough to do it on a consistent basis.
#3 He’s an invaluable asset to the team
As stated earlier, Hardik is India’s most prized asset when his fitness levels are at a 100 percent. He provides a much-needed pace all-rounder to the side, without comprising the balance in terms of their batting.
He can play the finisher’s role for India or anchor the innings, if required, like he did while showing immense maturity in the IPL. In his own right, he’s also a presence in the dressing room, a leader, and a player with ironclad confidence in his own abilities, making him a match-winner.
If the Gujarat Titans captain finds his best form in the build-up to the T20 World Cup, it will be a major boost, not only for him but also for the Indian side.
Here are two reasons why Hardik shouldn’t play all the remaining T20Is before the World Cup.
#1 India need to manage Hardik’s workload
Less than two years ago, Hardik went through an injury setback, unable to bowl due to a back injury. The 28-year-old addressed the issue, returning to his best all-rounder form with both the bat and ball in the IPL this year.
Since then, Hardik has made a return to the Indian white-ball sides and has been a permanent feature. He did miss a couple of games due to niggles or workload management, which suggests that the team management won’t look to take any chances with him and will want to wrap him up in cotton wool.
#2 Team India need to prepare for a worst-case scenario
The stage is set for India to play two fascinating T20I series before going Down Under. Of course, all eyes will be on how the side operates in terms of their plans, tactics and team selections. And with that, India will want to prepare for all scenarios possible, best or worst.
We noticed how Jadeja’s injury in the middle of the Asia Cup 2022 affected the balance and planning of the side, leaving them clutching at straws to find solutions. In a tournament like the T20 World Cup, India need to be better prepared and equipped to handle such situations.
The side wouldn’t want to be left suffering in their campaign if Hardik picks up an unfortunate injury. Hence, they might want to tinker around their combinations in a game or two, maybe fielding two of Axar Patel, Deepak Hooda, or Deepak Chahar as their all-rounders to see if they can plug any holes in the side, in case of an unfortunate injury scenario.