Cricket news - Hardik unwilling to rush bowling return for short-term gains

Hardik Pandya said he was unwilling to rush his return to bowling and run the risk of exhausting himself ahead of the important multi-team tournaments like the T20 WCs that will be played in successive years. The 27-year-old hasn't bowled since returning to competitive action following surgery to treat an acute lower-back injury.

The absence of Hardik the bowler was laid bare at the Sydney Cricket Ground in the opening ODI against Australia with the hosts racked up a gargantuan 374 and then buried India under those runs. Pandya revealed he remains shy of being match-ready with his bowling and will build up gradually towards achieving that.

"It is a process," Pandya said when asked where he was with respect to a return to bowling. "I am looking at a long-term goal where I want to be 100% of my bowling capacity for the most important games. The World Cups are coming. More crucial series are coming.

"I am thinking as a long-term plan, not short-term where I exhaust myself and maybe have something else [injury] which is not there. So it is going to be a process, which I am following. I can't tell you exactly when I am going to bowl but the process is going on. In the nets, I am bowling. It is just that I am not game-ready but I am still bowling. It is all about confidence and the skill has to be at an international level."

The importance of a sixth bowler is particularly played up when any of the five front-line bowlers have an off day. In India's case, the opening game saw three of their bowlers - Yuzvendra Chahal, Navdeep Saini and Jasprit Bumrah - concede over 245 runs in the 30 overs between them at a combined economy of 8.16. With Pandya not bowling and none of the batsmen in the top-five capable of providing an over-or-two of cushion, India had little to go with regards to a hiding place.

"That has been the question always, right?" Pandya said about need for another all-rounder. "We have to find and maybe make... I have always believed that... even when I came into the circuit, I was not always the allrounder which I wanted to be. But with time I groomed myself and became that bowling option. I worked on my bowling.

"Yeah, it is always going to be difficult when you go with five bowlers. When someone is having an off day you don't have someone to fulfil [the quota]. More than injury, the sixth bowler's role is when someone from the five bowlers is having a bad day, they come and fill those overs so the other guy gets more cushion. I think it is going to be... maybe we will have to make, maybe we will have to find someone who has already played India, and groom them and find a way to make them play.

"Maybe we should look in the Pandya family only. There is one sitting at home," Hardik added cheekily in reference to brother Krunal Pandya.

Virat Kohli too acknowledged the issue of the missing sixth bowler but said given the circumstances and the squad picked, the team would simply have to work around the problem. More pressing for India has been their lack of incisiveness up front with the new ball. India haven't picked a PowerPlay wicket in each of their last four ODIs, coincidentally leading to their first four-match losing streak in the format since 2016.

"Unfortunately Hardik is not ready to bowl yet so we have to accept that and work around it," Kohli said. "That is an area we have looked at, which is a very big part of any team balance. [Marcus] Stoinis and Glenn [Maxwell] do it for Australia.

"The key to keeping the batsmen in check is picking up wickets. That is something we were not able to do. Also, lapses in the field were also a reason why we couldn't capitalise on any kind of momentum, the pressure that we created in the early part of the innings.

"Everyone needs to show the intent for the entire 50 overs. Probably we played 50 overs after a long time. That could have an effect, but having said that we have played so much ODI cricket that it is not something we don't know how to do. I think the body language in the field wasn't great after around 25 overs. It was a disappointing part. If you don't take your chances against a top-quality opposition they'll hurt you and that is what happened today."