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‘India must quickly find backup for Hardik Pandya’ – Gautam Gambhir

Former India batsman Gautam Gambhir says the team should look for backup for all-rounder Hardik Pandya, a backup who should be a priority as they build for the 50-over World Cup at home in October-November.

“They need to find backup for Hardik quickly; if anything happens to him, India will be in serious, serious trouble,” Gambhir said on “Road To World Cup Glory,” a show on Star Sports that will air in full after the first T20I between India and Sri Lanka.

Hardik has only recently returned to full fitness after dealing with a back ailment that has plagued him for the past few years. The upcoming ODIs against Sri Lanka, where he will be vice-captain, will be his first one-day matches since the July 2022 tour of England.

Irfan Pathan, the former India all-rounder, believes that the back-up for Hardik need not necessarily be in the form of an all-rounder for bowling as the tournament is being played in India. To illustrate his point, he cited Yuvraj Singh’s exploits in the 2011 World Cup where he was Player of the Tournament with 362 runs and 15 wickets thanks to his left arm spin.

“Under these conditions you can have two running all-rounders,” said Irfan. “Guys like Washy [Washington Sundar]Axar [Patel], [Ravindra] Jadeja, and especially Deepak Hooda [should be] in your scheme of things. Because he’s a batter; he just took four wickets in the New Zealand series. He [Hooda] should have a long run.”

Who should make up for India’s speed attack at the World Cup?

Irfan also said having great speed in Umran Malik will give India’s speed attack the X factor, especially on flat decks where the ball may not seam much. Gambhir, meanwhile, welcomed the return of Jasprit Bumrah and said he will be the team’s biggest strength at the World Cup.

Both Gambhir and Irfan were unanimous in their support for Prasidh Krishna, who has impressed with limited opportunities with his hit-the-deck style helping him generate a steep bounce at an excellent pace. Krishna has not played any form of cricket since touring Zimbabwe in August after picking up an old number in September.

“He’s a guy who can give you extra pace and bounce, he’s my man,” said Irfan. “Avesh Khan can also be someone who bounces even on show pitches. You need guys who can give a little extra on wickets like that.”

Kris Srikanth, chairman of the selection committee that chose the 2011 World Cup winning team, had a different line-up in mind. “Umran Malik, Arshdeep Singh, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Siraj will be my four pacers along with Hardik Pandya’s average pace. The case is over.”

‘Take a break from T20 cricket, no ODIs’ – Gambhir
Workload management amid an increasingly busy calendar has been a hot topic of late, with India changing players and not often having a first-choice XI. If this is also the case in 2023, Gambhir said, the focus should be on letting first-choice players play ODIs and rests during the T20I series or the IPL.

“This year [the core group should be focusing on] ODIs for sure. If they want to take a break, people who play all three formats can certainly take a break from T20 cricket, but certainly not the ODI format. They need to play together – I think the biggest mistake Indian cricket has made in the last probably two World Cups is that they [the core players]these guys haven’t played enough cricket [in the lead up to the World Cups] together.

“Tell me how often do we have the best playing XI at the park? We don’t. Only during the World Cup do we decide to have the best playing XI… The break should be in T20 format and not 50 overs.

“And of the [IPL] franchisees point of view, [if] franchises have to suffer, they have to suffer. Indian cricket is the main stakeholder, not the IPL, the IPL is just the by-product. So if India wins the World Cup, it’s a big ovation.”

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