Mumbai Indians are keen to get some overs out of their key allrounder Hardik Pandya but are taking a cautious approach with him after his back surgery last year. Zaheer Khan, Mumbai's director of cricket operations, said on Sunday that Pandya is "very keen and really wanting to bowl," but they also have to "listen to his body".
Pandya has not bowled so far in Mumbai's two games - against the Chennai Super Kings and the Kolkata Knight Riders - and Khan didn't specify when exactly the allrounder could be expected to bowl next.
"We're all expecting him to bowl and he's someone who really changes the balance of any side when he's bowling and understands that but we have to listen to his body and that's a conversation we've been having in consultation with the physios," Khan said while answering questions from the press.
"We're looking forward for him to bowl, he's very keen and really wanting to bowl. We just have to wait and be patient and listen to his body. At the end of the day, any bowler's injury plays a huge role. We're happy he's there as a batter and with full fitness contribution, so that's the exciting part. Hopefully you'll see him bowl soon."
Pandya underwent a back surgery in October last year in the UK after his lower back had been troubling him since the Test series in England in 2018. The surgery kept Pandya out of action for almost a year, last playing a T20I against South Africa at home in September 2019. After that he missed the Tests against the same opposition, the home series against Bangladesh and West Indies, a T20I series against Sri Lanka and ODIs against Australia at home, and the entire tour of New Zealand earlier this year.
Pandya was a crucial player for Mumbai last IPL with both bat and ball: his strike rate of 191.42 for the 402 runs he scored in 15 innings and the 14 wickets he took in 42.3 overs helped his team lift a record fourth title. He plays the role of a key fifth or sixth bowler - interchangeably with his brother Krunal Pandya - which Mumbai used in the form of Kieron Pollard in their last game, against the Knight Riders earlier this week. It was a rare sight because Pollard last bowled in the IPL more than three years ago, in April 2017. Against the Super Kings in the first game, Mumbai used their regulation five bowlers while defending 162 and lost by five wickets.
Speaking of Pandya's bowling, Mumbai coach Mahela Jayawardene told host broadcaster Star Sports during the game against the Knight Riders that they would "gradually build him up".
"[It's a] day-by-day progress, we don't want to take a risk," Jayawardene said on September 23. "He came back from operation. He looks healthy now so we'll gradually build him up. We'll see when he's comfortable and then take a call."
Vishal Dikshit is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo