Mumbai versus Baroda is far from being a high-profile Ranji Trophy game. But with the return of Hardik Pandya, the all-rounder whose absence is a blow to India in Australia, after a three-month injury lay-off, the match will draw a lot of eyeballs - even literally, considering it will be live-streamed - over the coming four days.
Ever since he broke down during India’s Asia Cup opener in Dubai in September, Pandya has been missing in action. Despite not considering him for the four-Test series in Australia when it announced the squad way too much in advance, the national selection panel along with India’s team management is hopeful of Pandya being available for the last two Tests Down Under.
Mumbai faces well-settled Baroda in crucial clash
As a result, he was included in India A’s one-day squad for the three-match series in New Zealand, which concluded on Tuesday. However, with the Baroda player not having recovered fully from a serious back injury, he was withdrawn and his return (read fitness test) was prolonged to the Ranji clash against Mumbai.
Many at the Wankhede Stadium were surprised by Pandya’s absence from Baroda’s training session. The snazzy all-rounder arrived at the stadium towards the end of the session in flip-flops, only to attend the team meeting.
However, this correspondent had witnessed Pandya’s training on Wednesdsay. Pandya, having started bowling only last week, bowled not more than 30 balls in the nets before being asked to stop by Mumbai Indians physiotherapist Ashutosh Nimse, who along with former India physiotherapist Nitin Patel has been monitoring Pandya’s rehab. He then padded up and appeared in good nick during his 30-minute stint in the nets before participating in the fielding drills.
But with the Indian team management’s recent policy of either keeping the World Cup certainties away form domestic game or limiting their work-load, it would be interesting to see how Pandya is utilised over the next four days. Baroda captain Kedar Devdhar stressed that he has “not received any particular instructions”, about using Pandya by the National Cricket Academy or India’s management, but admitted that Pandya’s availability will be a double-edged sword for his team.
“Obviously he is an India regular so we will obviously want more from him but at the same time, since he has just recovered from an injury, if the situation doesn’t demand, it won’t make sense to stretch him. If we have to preserve him, it’ll be a sort of a disadvantage but we are happy that we can use him,” Devdhar said.
With at least one national selector expected to be in attendance at the Wankhede Stadium and Pandya expected to be a vital cog in India’s World Cup scheme, the next four days will be vital for Indian cricket, not just in Perth.