No replacement for Hardik Pandya… we know what he brings: BCCI chief selector Ajit Agarkar

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MUMBAI :  The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) chief selector Ajit Agarkar defended out-of-colour all-rounder Hardik Pandya’s inclusion in India’s squad for the ICC T20 World Cup 2024, saying that the “skillset the 30-year-old brings to the table is rare”.

In the current IPL 2024, the captain of the Mumbai Indians Pandya has been off-colour. Although he has scored 197 runs at a strike rate of 150.38 with the bat, his performance with the ball has been worrisome.

In ten games thus far, the right-arm bowler has claimed six wickets at an average of 42.16 and an economy rate of 11. His ball-handling skills will be crucial to India’s chances of winning the forthcoming ICC Men’s T20 World Cup, which the USA and the West Indies will co-host.

Pandya made India’s 15-player squad for the T20 WC, where he will play the role of deputy of captain Rohit Sharma.

Addressing a press conference in Mumbai on Thursday, chief of selector Agarkar came out in support of the decision to pick Pandya for the global event.

“Nothing discussed with regards to Vice Captaincy…You want all guys to be in good form. I think he has come after a long lay-off. The good part, that we have looked at is, that we have gotten through all the games so far for MI,” Agarkar said in a press conference.

Agarkar claimed that his selection was justified because of his special ability to keep the side balanced. The surprise was increased by Hardik’s dual job as vice-captain, but Agarkar never doubted his belief in the all-rounder’s ability.

The last time Hardik played for India was in the October 2023 ODI World Cup match against Bangladesh.

“We have another month and a little bit, till we play our first game. So, we know that he doing that and the hope is that he keeps building on that form. As long as he stays fit, we know what he brings, and how much balance he gives the team. I don’t think there is a replacement for the things that he can do as a Cricketer, especially the way he bowls…I think he will give Rohit options to play different combinations. His fitness, for us, is critical and so far he has gone okay in this IPL,” Agarkar said.

The exclusion of hard-hitting batter Rinku Singh from the T20 WC squad left many Indian team’s fanbase baffled. While most of India’s squad picked itself, there were a few surprising calls, with the omission of Shubman Gill and Rinku Singh prominent among them.

Rinku barely managed to make the reserves list after amassing 356 runs for India in 15 T20Is with an average of 89 and a strike rate of 176.24. He is not included in the ICC World T20 2024 squad.

Calling it one of the “toughest decisions” the selectors had to make, Agarkar called the decision “unfortunate” for the 26-year-old hitter and claimed Rinku’s exclusion was only down to the team’s desire to choose four spinners.

“It’s probably the toughest thing that we have had to discuss. He has done nothing wrong nor Shubman Gill for that matter. It’s about the combination. Like Rohit said, we are not quite sure what conditions we will get. So, we wanted to have enough options. A couple of spinners were included in the squad…It’s just unfortunate. I don’t think it has anything to do with Rinku Singh. It is not his fault that he has missed out. It is more than the 15 that we felt…At the end of the day, you can only pick 15,” Agarkar added.

India are placed in Group A of the ICC tournament alongside arch-rivals Pakistan, Ireland, Canada and co-hosts USA.

India will begin their T20 World Cup campaign against Ireland on June 5 at the Nassau County International Cricket Stadium, New York, followed by the marquee clash against Pakistan on June 9 at the same venue. India will then play the USA and Canada on June 12 and 15 respectively.

India squad: Rohit Sharma (c), Hardik Pandya (vc), Yashasvi Jaiswal, Virat Kohli, Suryakumar Yadav, Rishabh Pant (wk), Sanju Samson (wk), Shivam Dube, Ravindra Jadeja, Axar Patel, Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Arshdeep Singh, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohd. Siraj.

Reserves: Shubman Gill, Rinku Singh, Khaleel Ahmed and Avesh Khan. (ANI)

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