With less than 100 days for the World Cup, India's preparation for the tournament suffered a blow with their main allrounder Hardik Pandya ruled out of entire home series against Australia starting this Sunday.
Pandya, the BCCI said, was suffering from "lower back stiffness" and so its medical team has decided to send him to the National Cricket Academy in Bengaluru next week to undergo strength and conditioning work.
Ravindra Jadeja, originally left out from the ODI squad, has been named as replacement for the five-match series, which follows the two T20Is in Visakhapatnam and Bengaluru.
Pandya had only recently recovered from a stress fracture of the back. In September 2018, he had to be stretchered off the field while playing an Asia Cup match against Pakistan with the BCCI saying he was suffering from "acute back spasms". The problem was serious enough that he missed the entire home series against West Indies in October-November and then the first two Tests of the Australia tour as well.
Pandya regained full fitness in December and, having proven he can get through the workload of an allrounder in a first-class match for Baroda, joined the Indian team in Melbourne but did not play any part in the subsequent matches of the Boder-Gavaskar Trophy.
On the eve of his return, during the ODI series in Australia, he landed in controversy triggered by his comments on a talk show on Indian television. It was shot late last year but aired in early January. In the wake of widespread backlash, the Committee of Administrators (CoA), which runs the BCCI, suspendedboth Pandya and KL Rahul, who appeared alongside him on the same show.
Eventually, the CoA lifted the suspensions on both players on the condition that a final decision will be taken once the BCCI's ombudsman took charge. Justice DK Jain, a retired Supreme Court Judge, did so on Thursday. Pandya rejoined the Indian team during the New Zealand series, playing in six matches, picking up seven wickets and scoring 86 runs.
He showed no signs of strain during those performances, which makes the recurrence of this back injury a particular problem for India. Also keeping a close eye on his recovery would be the Mumbai Indians, for whom Pandya has been an important pillar. The IPL starts on March 23.
Pandya's absence would shift the focus on Tamil Nadu allrounder Vijay Shankar who has impressed both the team management and selectors during the New Zealand series. Vijay is being seen as a batting allrounder and is part of the pool of players shortlisted for the World Cup.