T20 World Cup: Hardik Pandya’s fitness still a concern, BCCI adds KKR all-rounder Venkatesh Iyer as cover

The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and the selectors have added Kolkata Knight Riders’ all-rounder Venkatesh Iyer as a cover for Hardik Pandya, who has been struggling with his fitness and hasn’t bowled for Mumbai Indians.

As per PTI, Venkatesh Iyer will stay back in the UAE and join the Team India bio-bubble in Dubai for the T20 World Cup. Hardik Pandya is expected to play as a batsman and not bowl as he is still recuperating from his back injury.

Venkatesh Iyer who has impressed as an opening batsman and also with the ball in the UAE is a like-to-like replacement. In eight matches in the IPL 2021, Iyer has scored 265 runs at an average of 37.85 and 123.35 strike rate. Apart from that, he has bagged three wickets with an economy rate of 8.53.

As for Hardik Pandya, he has endured a poor run. While he didn’t bowl, he has failed to impress with the bat as well. In 12 matches, he has scored 127 runs at an average of 14.11. It also includes a top score of 40 which helped Mumbai Indians beat Punjab Kings.

However, despite his poor batting form, one-dimensional Hardik Pandya was not dropped as the selectors kept their faith in him. A BCCI source earlier confirmed that Hardik Pandya “will not be replaced”.

“There is no question of replacing Hardik at this stage. Shardul or Deepak are not ready to take on the role. We have to develop backup in future. But now, it’s not the time, he will not be replaced,” a BCCI source told.

Why is Hardik Pandya’s lack of bowling worrying BCCI & selectors?

  • Lack of bowling raises questions about his fitness ahead of the mega event.
  • While he missed two matches due to a niggle, Mumbai Indians never revealed the kind and extent of the injury.
  • Hardik Pandya is considered the missing piece in a successful Team India machine in white-ball cricket and it is crucial for him to play the role of an all-rounder and not just a one-dimensional player.
  • Hardik has bowled only 42 overs the entire 2021 and that is a problem for going to a mega tournament where the team relies on his wicket-taking deliveries.
  • In IPL, he hasn’t bowled for 875 days and that takes away the all-rounder tag.
  • Selecting as a batsman in India’s Playing XI isn’t something selectors are looking at as a pure batsman at No 7 is not helpful for Team India.
  • His performance with the bat too isn’t good enough. In 2021, he has scored at an average of 24.00 in T20Is, 23.80 in ODIs, and in IPL that drops down to 14.11.

Delhi Capitals speedster Avesh Khan has been asked by the BCCI to stay back in the UAE after the IPL to join India’s T20 World Cup squad as a net bowler. Rajasthan Royal’s captain Sanju Samson has also been asked to stay back in UAE by the BCCI.

“The national selectors have decided to also include Avesh in the mix. As of now, he will be a net bowler but if the team management feels, he can be upgraded,” a BCCI source close to the selection committee told PTI on Tuesday.