Hardik Pandya could be in line for a Test return in England
Virat Kohli says India managing allrounder's workload with six Tests to come in England
India might be looking at a Test return for Hardik Pandya during the six Test matches in England later this year. As India were comprehensively beaten even after putting 336 on the board, Pandya's absence from the bowling crease remained a hot topic especially as he had been utilised during the T20I series. With Pandya not bowling in either of the ODIs, India were reduced to a five-bowler side with none of them getting any respite from England's all-out attack.
At the post-match presentation, Kohli was asked why Pandya was not bowled now that he had come back from his shoulder injury well enough to have resumed bowling. "We need to manage his body," Kohli told host broadcaster Star Sports. "Need to understand where we need this skill set. We did utilise him in the T20Is but in the ODIs, it's about managing his workload. We have Test cricket in England coming up too. So it's important for us to have him fit."
The last time Pandya played Tests was in England in 2018. Back then, the move was questioned by experts - Michael Holding in particular - for hedging because Pandya is not a proper Test allrounder. However, in recent times, India have benefited from having depth in their batting line-up, especially in Australia where they played the unheralded Washington Sundar ahead of Kuldeep Yadav just for his batting bonus.
Even before Sundar played that crucial role with the bat, India's fortunes turned with the return of Ravindra Jadeja as the allrounder in the second Test. In the home Tests, Axar Patel played that kind of role, combining with Rishabh Pant and R Ashwin in the lower-middle order. It is possible India are looking at Pandya to play the role Jadeja did in Australia: provide heft to the lower-middle order and also bowl some overs to keep the four specialist bowlers fresh. The conditions in England are not likely to be conducive to play both R Ashwin and Jadeja.
Pandya was part of the squad for the home Tests, although he didn't make it to the XI. It will be interesting to see how Mumbai Indians use Pandya during the IPL. In the last edition, he played purely as a batsman, but his side won't mind the cover Pandya's bowing provides to a bowling attack struggling on a particular night.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo