India v Australia 2018-19: What makes Hardik Pandya not a necessary member for the Boxing Day Test
India included Mayank Agarwal and Hardik Pandya in the Test squad for the remaining two matches in the Domain Test series against Australia. Mayank Agarwal replaces injured Prithvi Shaw for MCG and SCG Tests.
India may be tempted to include Hardik Pandya in the playing eleven for the Boxing Day Test considering their batting failure in Perth and with the intention of adding more variety to the bowling department. Ravichandran Ashwin may replace Umesh Yadav if he recovers from injury for the third Test match at Melbourne Cricket Ground which starts on 26 December 2018.
Hardik Pandya may find a spot for the Test match. However, it's not a necessary change which India has to make considering the playing conditions and the top form other pace bowlers are in. The last Test match played at MCG between Australia and England saw a high scoring game and had less assistance for the bowlers. The match ended in a draw where Alistair cooked scored another double century in his career.
India's decision to include fourth pace bowler in place of a spinner also cost them the game in Perth. Pandya, a fast bowling allrounder might leave India in the same situation where Virat Kohli will have to handle four pace bowlers along with Ashwin. India had done well with four bowlers in Adelaide and was successful in taking 20 wickets. It seems like Kohli may continue with KL Rahul and Murali Vijay as openers as hinted in his post-match press conference which means Pandya will be in for Vihari.
Pandya is coming out of an injury and will be interesting to see how he performs in Melbourne conditions. Shami, Bumrah, and Ishant Sharma have been in top form and India may not need another fast bowling option for the third Test. If the team management looks at utilizing Pandya as a batsman, the better move will be to stick with Vihari who a genuine middle order batsman and more than a handy part-time bowler is.
Considering the pitch in Melbourne and Sydney, Ashwin will once again hold the key role like what he had done in Adelaide. If Kohli wishes to change the opening combination with Vihari, Ravindra Jadeja will be a better option than Hardik Pandya in the given playing conditions.
Jadeja has shown immense improvement with his batting skills and can bat at number seven. India will also benefit from his spin bowling which will form a formidable five bowlers attack in the Boxing Day Test. It will also allow Rishab Pant to bat at six and to spend more time with established batsmen rather than the tailenders.
If Vihari replaces one of the openers, Pant at six, Jadeja at seven and Ashwin at eight will add more batting depth at the lower which is struggling to contribute with runs. We may have to wait till Kohli and team management announces the squad for the Boxing Day Test to see if they prefer an allrounder with pace bowling skills in Pandya or a spinner in Jadeja.