Why India shouldn’t play Hardik Pandya as third seamer in remainder of Asia Cup

Hardik’s ability to prise out wickets makes him extremely valuable and hence, captain Rohit Sharma has used him as an enforcer in the middle overs. But India must play three specialist quicks and not use Hardik as a third seamer.

India’s Hardik Pandya, left, listens to captain Rohit Sharma’s instructions during an Asia Cup match.

India’s Hardik Pandya, left, listens to captain Rohit Sharma’s instructions during an Asia Cup match. | Photo Credit: Anjum Naveed

Hardik’s ability to prise out wickets makes him extremely valuable and hence, captain Rohit Sharma has used him as an enforcer in the middle overs. But India must play three specialist quicks and not use Hardik as a third seamer.

India’s playing XI in the five-wicket defeat against Pakistan at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium on Sunday had two leg-spinners and Deepak Hooda as a replacement for the injured Ravindra Jadeja. In effect, it meant all-rounder Hardik Pandya played as the third seamer. He had a forgettable evening with the ball, conceding 44 in his four overs for just one wicket.

Playing Hardik as a specialist pacer has its challenges. In two matches at this Asia Cup, Hardik has picked four wickets - three against Pakistan in the first match - at an economy rate of 8.62. Hardik has bowled his full quota in both games. The difference? He was the fourth seamer in the first match and third in the second.

Hardik’s ability to prise out wickets makes him an extremely valuable asset and hence, captain Rohit Sharma has used him as an enforcer to challenge batters with short of a length deliveries before they are set. Hardik’s modus operandi has been simple: try and angle the short ball into the body to cramp batters for room. The wickets in Dubai, which is where India is playing all its matches, have offered good bounce while being slightly two-paced, and it perfectly suits Hardik’s mix of quick short balls and slower cutters.

On Sunday, despite having the services of part-time off-spinner Deepak Hooda, Rohit let Hardik finish his spell. This was possibly because of the flat nature of the Dubai pitch and the fact that Mohammad Rizwan and Mohammad Nawaz, both good players of spin, would’ve targeted Hooda.

In the first match, where Hardik was the fourth seamer, he bowled one over in the PowerPlay and the rest between overs 7 and 16. However, featuring as the third seamer on Sunday, the breakdown changed to two in the middle and one inside the first six and one at the death.

Overall, in T20Is this year, Hardik has picked three wickets in PowerPlays at an economy rate of over 10. Between overs 7 and 16, he has eight wickets at 7.59. He has bowled just three overs at the death during this phase and picked up one wicket. In fact, of Hardik’s 54 wickets in all T20Is, 68.5 % (37) have come in the middle overs while 14 came at the death and three in the PowerPlay.

That said, even as the third seamer, Hardik can bowl the bulk of his overs (3) between 7 and 16 and one at the death if India is really hard-pressed for options. But India seems to have a genuine problem over the troublesome third seamer slot for this Asia Cup. Avesh Khan, in two matches, has conceded 72 runs and picked up just two wickets at an economy rate of 12. He did not play the last match against Pakistan but is understood to be available for tonight’s match.

And while a fit Hardik, bowling his four overs, is quintessential to the team balance, India must revert to its original combination and play three specialist quicks, one spinner, and two allrounders against Sri Lanka on Tuesday.

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