Rohit Sharma made his return to IPL 2020 on Tuesday, for the Mumbai Indians against the Sunrisers Hyderabad, after missing the past four matches through injury. His return was curiously timed: it came a few hours after BCCI president Sourav Ganguly said that there was no timeline for Sharma's return to the cricket field and that the board would "have to assess" his fitness status.
At the toss on Tuesday, when Murali Kartik asked Sharma whether "everything was fit and fine," the Mumbai captain let out a short laugh and said: "Yeah, looks like that." He was later dismissed for 4, off seven balls.
*Later in the night, after Mumbai lost to the Sunrisers by 10 wickets, commentator Mark Nicholas asked Sharma at the presentation if his hamstring was "completely fine," Sharma said: "Ya, absolutely," with a smile. "I was happy to be back, it's been a while. I was going through some tough times but, again, good to be back. I'm looking forward to play a few more games here and then see what happens. Always nice to be on the ground doing what I love to do so very happy about it."
Sharma, who had not been named in any of the three India squads that were announced last week for the Australia tour, last played on October 18 against the Kings XI Punjab, where he suffered a left hamstring injury while finishing a run at the end of the first of the two Super Overs.
On October 23, the day Mumbai played against the Chennai Super Kings, Mumbai issued a brief statement saying Sharma was making "good progress".
The confusion around Sharma soared when soon after the announcement of the India squads, the Mumbai franchise put out a picture and then a video on their social media of Sharma batting in the nets on October 26. On Monday, Mumbai once again posted a video on their social media of Sharma batting, further adding to the intrigue over his absence from the Australia tour.
It is too early to say if Sharma's return to the field would affect his chances of being selected for the Australia tour which is scheduled to start with the ODIs from November 27 in Sydney. The Indian contingent will travel straight from the UAE to Australia after the IPL finishes on November 10. Defending champions Mumbai were the first to make the playoffs and will take on the Delhi CapItals on November 5 in the Qualifier 1.
The hamstring injury is the second time Sharma has hurt his left leg this year. In February he tore his calf on the same leg during the T20I segment of the New Zealand tour, and missed out on the two Tests as he was forced to return to India.
Nitin Patel, the Indian physio, who is in the UAE, is understood to have cautioned Sharma to not rush back to the field which could completely rule him out of the Australia tour. The seriousness of the injury and the team management's concerns were first expressed by India head coach Ravi Shastri, followed by Ganguly in the past few days.
On Sunday, Shastri told Times Now that as per Patel's medical report, Sharma "could be in danger of injuring himself again if he is not careful". Shastri advised Sharma not to "rush back" to the field, giving an example from his own playing career.
"What I fear, I have been through that as a cricketer myself," Shastri said. "I finished my career in 1991 when I went back to Australia when I shouldn't have. If I had taken a break for three or four months, I could've played five years longer for India.
"So, I speak from experience. It is a similar case. I wanted to go. Doctors told me don't go. It was greed. I was in tremendous form so there was this eagerness to go back. I hope Rohit's case is not that serious."
Earlier on Tuesday, Ganguly said he wanted Sharma to be cautious before deciding whether to play any more in the IPL.
"Rohit is injured at the moment. Otherwise, why would we leave out a player like him? He is the vice-captain of the national (limited-overs) team," Ganguly said. "We will have to assess him. I don't know [when he can come back]. He hasn't played so far since the time he has got injured. We want him to recover.
"Yeah, you don't want him to get injured again. He has a hamstring tear and it will get ruptured again. It will then get longer for him to come back. But yes, there are people working with him.
"The Mumbai Indians physio is working with him. The Indian physio [Nitin Patel] is there. Rohit himself knows that he has got a long career ahead and it's not just this IPL or next series for him. I am sure he is mature enough to do what is best for him."
*1820 GMT: The story was updated after the post-match presentation