Hardik Pandya has been missing in action during IPL 2021’s second phase
That’s two games now that Hardik Pandya has missed for the Mumbai Indians (MI) in the second phase of the 2021 Indian Premier League (IPL). In what is anything but a coincidence, the defending champions have lost two on the trot to drop to sixth place, with only four wins in nine games and a net run rate of -0.310.
Strangely, MI have been hesitant to provide a clear explanation for Pandya’s absence. Shortly after the all-rounder missed the first game of the UAE leg against the Chennai Super Kings, star fast bowler Trent Boult claimed he was “recovering well” from a niggle.
After MI were mauled by the Kolkata Knight Riders on September 24, bowling coach Shane Bond stated that Pandya is “training well.” Bond continued by saying that the franchise wants to “balance their needs” with those of India ahead of the T20 World Cup.
This isn’t even the only instance of MI resting a player in IPL 2021, though. Even Rohit Sharma wasn’t safe from the same as he sat out the game against CSK, with head coach Mahela Jayawardene providing the same reason behind the skipper’s absence. Interestingly, Rohit played through a niggle for MI towards the end of IPL 2020, after which he was involved in a controversial communication mishap with the BCCI and subsequently missed India’s tour of Australia.
Nevertheless, past and recent events aside, Rohit can afford to sit out the odd game. MI have a capable stand-in skipper in Kieron Pollard, and it’s not like Rohit has single-handedly won them a handful of games over the last few seasons.
However, Hardik Pandya doesn’t fall under the same category. He is an all-rounder who is of utmost importance to both MI and India, and both teams will be hit hard if he isn’t at his best.
India need Hardik Pandya to bowl regularly in the lead-up to the T20 World Cup, while MI need him to save their drowning IPL 2021 campaign
Hardik Pandya is India’s best pace-bowling all-rounder
Let’s start with India, since the country generally takes priority over franchises. Hardik Pandya is the best pace-bowling all-rounder at India’s disposal and his importance to the side has only been enhanced by the composition of the T20 World Cup squad.
India have only three frontline pacers in their 15-man squad, with as many as six spinners making the cut. The Men in Blue need at least three fast-bowling options in the playing XI, and they probably can’t afford to play all three of Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami as that would greatly lengthen the tail.
That’s where Hardik Pandya comes in – a pace-bowling all-rounder who can bat at No. 6 and guarantee a few overs. However, his bowling is nowhere near where it needs to be, which was evident during the Sri Lanka tour. Pandya registered figures of 1/34, 0/20, 1/43 and 1/17 in the four matches he played, and to make matters worse, he managed only 29 runs over those games.
Pandya even saw his place in the Indian playing XI come under question, and while he’s an integral part of the white-ball side, he needs to step up his game in the coming weeks.
Now, coming to the Mumbai Indians, the situation is equally upsetting. Hardik Pandya didn’t bowl during the first phase of IPL 2021, and tallied only 52 runs in seven matches at an average of 8.66 and a strike rate of 118.18.
Interestingly, the game against KKR was essentially make or break for MI. Not only are the two-time champions now ahead of MI in the points table, but RR too have leapfrogged Rohit Sharma’s men. Moreover, Pandya boasts of an impeccable record against KKR, having amassed 299 runs at an average of 59.8 and a strike rate of 184.56.
Even if Pandya wasn’t at full fitness, MI could’ve fielded him as a specialist batsman like they did in the first half of IPL 2021. This is assuming he doesn’t have any serious niggles, which we don’t know because MI have released no information on the same.
MI have been oddly cryptic about Hardik Pandya’s injury status, which hasn’t helped matters. But it’s clear that both franchise and country need the 27-year-old to return at the earliest. While MI’s IPL 2021 season is on the line, India can’t afford to have their premier – and essentially only – all-rounder come into a massively important tournament without much match practice under his belt.
India will hope that the injury Hardik Pandya is currently dealing with isn’t a relapse of the back and shoulder niggles he has suffered over the last two years. But one thing is for certain – the sooner he’s back in action and contributing in both departments, the better it is.