Indian cricket team misses a huge trick in limited overs by playing Hardik Pandya as a 5th bowler and number 7 batsman. I’ll start with the example of last two world cup winners and runner ups England (2019), Australia (2015) and New Zealand (2019). All of them consistently fielded with 4+2 or 5+1 bowling options minimum, and that in modern times is a must to do. England sometimes even underbowls Adil Rashid when Ben Stokes is on song. Anyway, quiet clearly the point I am trying to bring is, that it is because Ben Stokes bowls as a 6th bowler and not 5th, Morgan gets plenty of options and it gives someone like a Mark Wood, freedom to attack with good pace. You try attacking Chris Woakes and they won’t panic but rather have a great fallback plan with Stokes. They would still come out attacking to you.
India quiet cleary struggles with bowling options, the moment any Indian bowler is attacked, specially given that Kohli doesn’t get any help from his part timers. Lately India has been stuck with this 5 and only 5 bowler strategy which seems suicidal to me. The moment batsman knows that every bowler has to bowl 10 overs at any cost, he gets the liberty to take at least one of them down for attack. How it affects every bowler:
Someone like Jadeja potentially an easy victim for left handed batsmen with some slogging skills. Someone like Hardik always bending back to squeeze those 10 overs (While he is essentially a batting all rounder). Someone like Chahal/Kuldeep forced to bowl defensive if taken down and God we all know Kuldeep never comes back well after being thrashed. If he has the confidence that certain 6th bowler can take up the share of overs, he can be more free in his approach. And obviously since there are only 5 bowlers, India over depends on Bumrah, which may also be better because now your spinners are your attacking bowlers too. As of now, Hardik has batted in only 38 innings among the 54 ODIs he has played but has a handful of overs in his bag. Even in T20Is he has batted in only 25 of the 40 matches he has played. Mind you he is essentially a batting all rounder. In a home ODI series against Australia in 2017, Kohli sent him up at 4 a few times, and he was batting decently, scored 78 on one occasion. One good thing I feel about his batting is, that he can play the ground shots really nicely, his bat swing and flow for the ground shots against seamers is superb which is a key component to an innings builder. But its very rare that we expect him to build the innings.
Bottom line is, a lot of direction in India’s 50 over cricket (Probably the next world cup) will be decided on the basis of where Hardik fits in the team and how he fares. Our plan won’t be foul proof at any cost if Kohli keeps playing him as a fifth bowler who doesn’t bat that often. But given he bats at 6, plays up to his potential, builds a few innings, acts as a sidekick to the 5 main bowlers and invests that energy in fielding (such an electric fielder he is), he can be important, very very important and can yield good results. I would suggest playing Him and Jadeja at 6 and 7 and then have 4 separate bowlers according to conditions. In fact, since the next world cup is in India, if somehow a lineup with both Kuldeep and Chahal (Or who so ever attacking spinners) suits India, India can still go with 2 spinners alongside Jadeja, and Hardik can be the 3rd seamer when needed, see there is so much flexibility.
There is just one box Hardik hasn’t ticked, and that is slogging the fast bowlers, and we have to see if he develops that art too. Jadeja has also been under utilized as a batsman, but to be honest, Jadeja also has this little issue that he can’t reliably clear the ropes against seamers.
While its very obvious that Hardik is noway near to what Ben Stokes is, but one thing is for sure, in this Indian lineup, we can’t even expect him to be anywhere close to that level, if he keeps batting at 7 and neither won’t he (or shouldn’t he) ever make it to the test team. Because clearly the pathway for him should be to become a proper batsman (not just slogger) first and then it can be seen if there is a potential test No. 6 in him too, who can share the load from the seamers (The way CDG does).