Does Hardik Pandya find a place in India’s strongest Test XI?

Hardik Pandya has been recalled to the Indian Test squad for the England series

Can Hardik Pandya serve as the third seamer in overseas conditions?

Australia felt the brunt of Hardik Pandya

The Indian cricket team will follow up their historic Border-Gavaskar Trophy triumph with a 4-Test home series against England. The squad for the highly anticipated face-off features a couple of returning players, and one among them is all-rounder Hardik Pandya.

Pandya is a staple of the limited-overs outfits, but injuries have dented his claim to become an all-format regular. The Baroda-born player has featured in 11 Tests for India, over the course of which he has scored 532 runs and taken 17 wickets.

While these numbers don’t make for great reading, Hardik Pandya has shown glimpses of his immense potential in both departments. A blistering 86-ball ton against Sri Lanka in his maiden series was succeeded by a counter-attacking 93 versus South Africa in Cape Town. He also snared a 5-for at Trent Bridge back in 2018, which is the year he last donned the whites for India.

Hardik Pandya is right up there with the best in the world in white-ball cricket, but he doesn’t hold the same status in Tests. This is not due to his own shortcomings, but because Virat Kohli has a world-class team at his disposal – one which might not have room for a “bits-and-pieces” all-rounder.

In this article, we analyse whether Hardik Pandya deserves to walk into the Indian Test team for the England series.

India have understandably adopted distinctly different strategies while selecting their playing XI at home and overseas.

In the subcontinent, they’ve backed Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja to provide regular breakthroughs, with Kuldeep Yadav occasionally chosen as the third spinner. Kohli has relied on the reverse swing and wicket-taking ability of Umesh Yadav and Mohammed Shami, while Ishant Sharma has been the leader of the attack while fit.

In countries like South Africa, England and Australia, it has been imperative for India to play three seamers. And the recent rise of Ashwin and Jadeja even in overseas conditions has ensured that India will almost always have to go in with 5 frontline bowlers.

This is why it will be difficult for Hardik Pandya to get a look in overseas. He has put in eye-catching performances in England and South Africa, but it has become next to impossible to drop any of Ashwin, Jadeja, Shami/Ishant and Bumrah. Third-choice pacers like Shardul Thakur, Mohammed Siraj, Navdeep Saini and T Natarajan are also waiting in the wings.

Hardik Pandya will have to significantly improve his bowling if he is to challenge any of these bowlers for a spot, especially given Thakur’s recent displays and Ishant’s steady progression with the bat. But at home, where he can take on the spinners and chip in with a few overs as the third seamer, Pandya could find a place in the Indian playing XI.

Hardik Pandya must be fit enough to bowl, as captain Kohli has emphatically stated that the all-rounder must roll his arm over to be considered for selection in Test cricket. It will be interesting to see how his body copes with the demands of 5-day cricket, and whether the modifications he has made to his action work in his favour.

India bowling coach Bharat Arun hinted that Kuldeep Yadav will be trusted to support Ashwin in the absence of Jadeja. Should the team decide to go in with three spinners, Washington Sundar will be the straightforward choice after a brilliant debut.

It seems like India will field three frontline pacers and two frontline spinners like they did in their last home series against Bangladesh. Bumrah is set to play his first Test at home, while Ishant and Thakur could support him. Ashwin is a definite fixture, and the hosts will invariably play another spinner in Kuldeep or Sundar.

With Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane and Rishabh Pant taking up the 4 spots in the middle order, Hardik Pandya could find himself on the bench against England. The 27-year-old hasn’t bowled at a competitive level in a long time, and it’s unlikely that he’ll be given third seamer duties so early in his comeback from injury.

As of now, Hardik Pandya isn’t part of India’s strongest Test playing XI. However, a return to full bowling fitness would make him an immediate selection in home conditions.

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