Is Hardik Pandya finally fit to be back? Will Virat Kohli be rested? | ESPNcricinfo.com

10:56 AM ISTDeivarayan MuthuOn Thursday, former India left-arm spinner Sunil Joshi was appointed chairman of the Indian men's selection committee. Joshi, along with former India fast bowler Harvinder Singh, is likely to join the rest of three existing panel members over the weekend to pick India's squad for the three-match ODI series against South Africa,…

10:56 AM IST

  • Deivarayan Muthu

On Thursday, former India left-arm spinner Sunil Joshi was appointed chairman of the Indian men’s selection committee. Joshi, along with former India fast bowler Harvinder Singh, is likely to join the rest of three existing panel members over the weekend to pick India’s squad for the three-match ODI series against South Africa, which begins on March 12 in Dharamsala.

Will the selectors rest Virat Kohli after an arduous and disappointing tour of New Zealand? Will Shikhar Dhawan return to lend experience to the opening combination which does not feature Rohit Sharma, who is recovering from the calf injury? Will Hardik Pandya finally make his much-anticipated international comeback after undergoing back surgery last October? ESPNcricinfo takes a look at these and more questions Joshi’s panel is likely to deliberate on.

Is Pandya fit enough for top-fight cricket?

Pandya was supposed to be back in action from a back injury during India A’s tour of New Zealand last year. That didn’t come to pass. Then, Pandya was supposed to return for the senior side’s tour of New Zealand. That didn’t come to pass either. However, the allrounder has now proven his fitness and form in the DY Patil T20 tournament, an invitational event, rattling off scores of 46, 105, 38 and 158*. His first hundred in the tournament had come off 37 balls and the second off 39 balls.

While Pandya’s big-hitting in the DY Patil tournament is an encouraging sign, ahead of the South Africa series and the IPL, it remains to be seen if his dodgy back can get through the rigours of bowling ten overs. In the DY Patil tournament, Pandya bowled without exerting himself, utilising his variations and international experience to dominate the batsmen. Can his back withstand the much higher demands of international cricket?

Pandya underwent back surgery in October 2019 and hasn’t played international cricket at all since the third T20I against South Africa in Bengaluru in September last year. His last ODI was the World Cup semi-final against New Zealand in Manchester.

The Dube question

If Pandya is cleared to return to the mix, will Shivam Dube be left out or will the management keep him in the side as cover? Much like Pandya, Dube can launch mighty sixes – like he had done when he was promoted to No.3 against West Indies in the Thiruvananthapuram T20I last year – but his bowling has been puny in comparison.

More recently, he kept missing his length in the Mount Maunganui T20I and wound up leaking 34 runs in an over. Since his ODI debut last December in Chennai, where he conceded 68 in 7.5 overs, he hasn’t played another 50-over game for India. Will the selectors want to retain Dube as a back-up for Pandya and give him more time to get used to international cricket?

Will Kohli be rested?

Kohli’s scores in the New Zealand Test series were 2,19, 3 and 14. He got sucked into the trap set by Tim Southee and co. and even in the ODI series that preceded the long-form cricket, he was struggling for fluency.

Both Kohli and coach Ravi Shastri have publicly stated that ODI cricket isn’t India’s priority and with the IPL, the Sri Lanka tour, the Asia Cup to follow in the lead-up to the T20 World Cup, will the team management consider resting the captain for the three-match ODI series against South Africa? Or will Kohli want to wash away the failures in New Zealand by striking some rich form against South Africa ahead of the IPL?

If the selectors feel Kohli needs to take a break, and if Rohit is still unavailable, then KL Rahul, who had stood in for the injured Rohit in the Mount Maunganui T20I, is likely to take charge as the stand-in captain.

Who will keep wicket?

But will Rahul continue to keep wicket still if he is made the captain? Since Rishabh Pant suffered a concussion in the first ODI against Australia in Mumbai earlier this year, he has been relegated to the sidelines in limited-overs cricket, with Rahul doubling up as middle-order-batsman and wicketkeeper. During this period Rahul has also established himself as a versatile batsman, making game-changing contributions both at the top and in the middle order.

During the white-ball series in New Zealand, Kohli said that he was particularly pleased with how Rahul had responded to the dual role. But if Rahul is asked to lead the side, in the absence of both Kohli and Rohit, and also keep wicket, he might have to juggle with too many responsibilities. In that case, will India be better off giving Pant the keeping gloves and assess how he fares in the middle-order role again?

The opening conundrum

Shikhar Dhawan has had some freak injuries in recent times, the latest one being a shoulder injury he sustained during the ODI series against Australia. The left-handed opener was back in action in the DY Patil tournament in Mumbai, and could well be in contention to return to the top in the upcoming ODIs against South Africa. Who will be his partner, though? Neither Mayank Agarwal or Prithvi Shaw grabbed their opportunities in the ODI series in New Zealand. The opening partnerships in that series read: 8, 21, and 50.

Will India shake things up further by selecting Shubman Gill over Agarwal or Shaw? Gill was in fine form for India A in both the four-dayers and one-dayers in New Zealand and will be eager to add to his two ODIs.

Considering there is not much relevance to the series, would Joshi encourage his panel to dare and pick a fresh opening set that does not include Dhawan?

What about Kedar Jadhav and Bhuvneshwar Kumar?

Not too long ago, Kedar Jadhav‘s all-round skills were central to India’s ODI set-up. The team management now has perhaps lost faith in his bowling; he has delivered all of one over in the five ODIs he has played since the World Cup. On the batting front, Jadhav does the tough job of having to tee off with very few overs left in the innings, and he hasn’t done badly either. But Manish Pandey’s recent form – both with the bat and in the field – has now put him ahead of Jadhav in the pecking order, leaving the 34-year old’s future uncertain.

The last time South Africa were in India, during the T20I series, Kohli had tagged Bhuvneshwar Kumar as one of his first-choice quicks. Bhuvneshwar did fairly well against a power-packed West Indies side in the deciding T20I in Mumbai, giving up 41 runs while picking up the prized scalp of Kieron Pollard. He was subsequently ruled out of the ODI series against West Indies and underwent a hernia operation. When Bhuvneshwar was out of action, Navdeep Saini had stepped up and impressed with his raw pace and variations.

With the pace-attack well-stoked – Deepak Chahar is recovering from injury, Jasprit Bumrah is back, Mohammed Shami is around and Umesh Yadav is waiting in the wings – Bhuvneshwar needs to re-establish himself as the first-choice pacer. Does he still have it in him at the death? Can he still crank it up to 140kph – and beyond – post multiple injuries?

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