In the run-up to the team selection, the chairman of selectors felt that since Pandya wasn’t bowling at all, sending him to Australia just as a batsman wouldn’t be feasible.
The decision, TOI understands, took the team management by surprise as Pandya had scored heavily in the Indian Premier League (IPL). “The selectors, at least some, believed he can’t go because he can’t bowl. It was a surprise they didn’t see the kind of batting form he was in. It took some convincing to have Pandya included because if it was left to certain individuals, he was unlikely to go,” said those tracking developments.
Pandya bowled four overs in the second ODI at the SCG and picked two wickets. “These are the kind of decisions that show if one is capable of looking at the bigger picture. Right now, whether he can bowl or not, Hardik is indispensable in the white-ball format. Between now and the T20 World Cup, these kind of selection decisions will be very crucial,” sources added.
The selection committee also did not identify T Natarajan, the newest star on the horizon for Team India, as a potential member of the playing XI in the white-ball format. Natarajan was sent to Australia only as a net bowler and came into the team following the injury to Navdeep Saini.
However, it was in the nets that the bowler – who has come a long way since first being identified as a prospect in the Tamil Nadu Premier League (TNPL) – caught the attention of the Indian team management. In the nets, Natarajan’s ability to bowl a defined line and length, especially yorkers – the kind that were on display in the IPL – convinced the team management of his abilities.
The bowler did go at seven runs an over in his first international game – the third ODI at the Manuka Oval – and the two wickets, including the one of Marnus Labuschagne, didn’t really make him stand apart. However, back in the nets, he was taking bigger strides. “It was absolutely clear he would play the T20s after what they saw in the nets. The wicket of Mitchell Starc in the first game (T20) cleared whatever little doubt there was,” sources say.
The Tamil Nadu bowler was the fifth-highest Indian wicket-taker in the IPL only behind leg-spinner Varun Chakravarthy, who suffered a shoulder injury. “But Natarajan’s ability to bowl yorkers at will was so astonishing that there is no doubt he should’ve been part of the T20 squad. Not just a net bowler. In the end, he got what he was deserving of,” say those tracking developments.