Hardik Pandya's lower-back injury, which has taken away his bowling, for the time being, has affected India's team balance in a big way, but there was good news for India's fans after the first of the three ODIs in Australia. Not only did Pandya give a good account of himself as a batsman, top-scoring with 90 off 76 from 101 for 4, he also dropped a hint he might be ready to bowl come the World Cups. There are three of those in the next three years: for T20Is in 2021 and 2022, and the ODI variety in 2023. He said he was bowling already but still not confident physically or skills-wise he could do it in games.
"It is a process," Pandya said when asked where he was with respect to a return to the bowling crease. "I am looking at a long-term goal where I want to be 100% of my bowling capacity for the most important games. The World Cups are coming. More crucial series are coming. Whenever it is required.
"I am thinking as a long-term plan, not short term where I exhaust myself and maybe have something else [injury] which is not there. So it is going to be a process, which I am following. I can't tell you exactly when I am going to bowl but the process is on. In the nets, I am bowling. It is just that I am not game-ready but I am bowling. It is all about confidence and the skill has to be at an international level."
The absence of Pandya the bowler hurts India all the more because they have no part-timer to hold the fort for the time being. Ravindra Jadeja is the only two-dimensional player in the ODI squad in Australia, but he plays as the fifth bowler, leaving no allowance for any of the bowlers to have an off day. At least three of them had it in the series opener, which resulted in a humongous target of 375.
Pandya said India needed to groom someone promising even if there was no natural allrounder coming through. "That has been the question always, right?" Pandya said of the missing link in the side. "We have to find and maybe make… I have always believed that… even when I came into the circuit, I was not always the allrounder which I wanted to be. But with time I groomed myself and became that bowling option. I worked on my bowling.
"Yeah, it is always going to be difficult when you go with five bowlers. When someone is having an off day you don't have someone to fulfil the quota. More than injury, the sixth bowler's role is when someone among the five bowlers is having a bad day. I think it is going to be… maybe we will have to make, maybe we will have to find someone who has already played India, and groom them and find a way to make them play."
Pandya went on to make a cheeky suggestion: "Maybe we should look in the Pandya family only. There is one sitting at home."
Brother Krunal has been tried in T20Is by India, but not in the ODIs. It is probably because they already have one fingerspinner in Jadeja, and they need either a seam-bowling allrounder or a batsman who can turn his arm over.
India's captain Virat Kohli admitted they didn't have such an option in the touring party in Australia. Asked if he would have a bowl himself, Kohli joked he might bowl if Aaron Finch were batting. He called for his specialist bowlers to pick up wickets to make up for the absence of that cushion of a sixth bowler and asked for a better body language.
"The key to winning games is picking up wickets," Kohli pointed out. "That is something we were not able to do. Also, lapses in the field were also a reason why we couldn't capitalise on any kind of momentum, the pressure that we created in the early part of the innings.
"Everyone needs to show the intent for the entire 50 overs. Probably we played 50 overs after a long time. That could have an effect, but having said that we have played so much ODI cricket that it is not something we don't know how to do. I think the body language in the field wasn't great after around 25 overs. It was a disappointing part. If you don't take your chances against a top-quality opposition they'll hurt you and that is what happened today."