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Zaheer expects Hardik to 'bowl very soon' for Mumbai Indians

The franchise is looking at Pollard as their sixth bowling option

Vishal Dikshit
Vishal Dikshit
The Pandya brothers engaged in a conversation  •  BCCI/IPL

The Pandya brothers engaged in a conversation  •  BCCI/IPL

Hardik Pandya did not bowl in the IPL 2021 opener against the Royal Challengers Bangalore because of his workload management, and Kieron Pollard will be Mumbai Indians' sixth bowling option, according to their director of cricket operations Zaheer Khan.
Hardik's bowling - or the lack of it - has been a concern since his lower-back injury a couple of years ago. On Friday, he was also seen returning the ball from the deep with under-arm throws while fielding in their first game, which Khan said was because of a "shoulder concern". However, Khan went on to say "you will very soon see" Hardik bowl.
"Hardik as a whole package is of great value," Khan said ahead of the clash against the Kolkata Knight Riders on Tuesday. "It was a workload related thing in the previous game [that he didn't bowl]. He bowled in the India-England series, in the last ODI he bowled about nine overs, and that's why in consultation with the physios, we had to take that approach.
"There was a little bit of a shoulder concern. I don't think it's worrisome, you will very soon see him bowl. For the timelines, you'll have to ask the physio but in terms of Hardik the bowler coming in this tournament, we are very confident that he will be chipping in."
Hardik played as a specialist batsman in IPL 2020, and returned to bowling properly against England last month. He bowled in only one of the three ODIs in Pune, and another 17 overs before that across the five T20Is, which included three instances of completing his four-over quota.
During the Australia tour last year, Hardik had said that his long-term plan was to bowl mainly for the upcoming World Cups and the important series in the coming years. But if he continues to stay away from the ball for Mumbai in the IPL because of workload management, they will turn to Pollard once again, like they had last year, apart from using the four regular bowlers and the left-arm spin of Krunal Pandya.
"Pollard is our sixth bowling option," Khan said. "He's an experienced campaigner here so he's definitely going to be our sixth bowling option. And whenever Hardik is available, he's going to be a bowling option as well. We're not very concerned in that department. You have to adapt and adjust. This year it's a different format so we'll look to have that flexibility around because of not being able to play in the home ground."
In an interview with the Times of India before the IPL, Mumbai's bowling coach Shane Bond had explained that even though Hardik had lost a bit of pace since his back surgery, their aim since the 2020 IPL had been to get the allrounder to start bowling gradually for India.
"It's natural that you will lose a bit of top-end consistent pace after a back injury, but what is important is that he hasn't lost his aggressive approach," Bond had said. "He can use the bouncer too, has the skills to swing the ball and can still work up a good pace. Our aim was to get him back in the process of returning as an allrounder for India and he is coming to this IPL having done so against England.
"When he was picked for India, he was seen as a genuine allrounder. He can still do both equally well, but it's his batting that has taken the pressure off his bowling. He knows he is one of the best white-ball batsmen in the world and that has made him more comfortable with his bowling.
"I understand that he is a brilliant fourth-pacer option [for India] batting at No. 7 in Tests, but I would think he is better off bowling 10 overs a day even when he is playing red-ball cricket, instead of 15-16. Ben Stokes, too, is doing the same."
Bond also said he had helped Hardik make some technical adjustments in his bowling. "There was a point when I felt he was diving into the crease a little bit too much. He was also mindful of that and got the alignment a little straight and it worked."

Vishal Dikshit is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo