Hardik still 'turtle, not the rabbit' as he builds up bowling workload for World Cup

Hardik Pandya has declared he’s ready to shoulder a significantly higher bowling workload as he builds towards the 2023 World Cup, but is still a “turtle, not the rabbit.”

Hardik, currently in the Caribbean with India’s limited-overs squad, has had two full months off since the IPL finished. In this period, he “switched off” for a month and then underwent a three-week physical conditioning at the National Cricket Academy, where there was an equal emphasis on fitness as there was on skill.

Ahead of the series, he had said he’d informed the team management of his keenness to play only if he could contribute with the ball too.

At IPL 2023, Pandya bowled 25 overs across 16 games for runners-up Gujarat Titans. In the Caribbean, Pandya has so far bowled 9.4 overs across two ODIs. In the first, he opened the bowling but was required for just three overs in a game where only 45.5 overs were bowled. In the second, he went wicketless in 6.4 overs as West Indies levelled the series with a six-wicket win.

After the second ODI, Hardik, who stood in for the rested Rohit Sharma, spoke about how he is slowly increasing his bowling workload keeping in mind the 50-overs World Cup. After the ongoing ODI series, Hardik’s next 50-overs engagement is likely to be the Asia Cup from August 30. In between, he’ll lead India in the T20I series against the West Indies.

“My body is fine. I have to bowl more overs and get my workload up for the World Cup,” he said. “I’m a turtle right now, not the rabbit and hoping everything goes right as the World Cup comes on.”

On Sunday, head coach Rahul Dravid touched upon the need to look at the bigger picture, without being influenced by short-term results. India have chosen to hand opportunities to fringe players to try and give them game time in the absence of regulars who are recuperating from injuries.

Hardik, though, is excited about the decider. “To be honest, you want to be going 1-1 to the third game as it’ll be more challenging and exciting,” he said. “They will be tested; we will be tested now that the series stands 1-1. The next game will be exciting for the viewers as well as the players.”

With the bat, Hardik hasn’t been able to hit top gear in the two outings so far. In the first, he walked in at No. 4 with India needing 61 but was caught short at the non-striker’s end for 5 when Yannic Cariah deflected an Ishan Kishan shot onto the stumps. In the second ODI, he was part of a full-blown top-order collapse after a 90-run opening stand.

He made 7 off 14 balls and was out pulling a short ball from Jayden Seales to midwicket. A ball later, India lost Sanju Samson as they lost 5 for 23. They were eventually bowled out for 181 in 40.5 overs.

“We didn’t bat the way we were supposed to,” Pandya said. “The wicket was better than it was in the first game. Everyone barring Shubman (Gill) hit fielders and got out. Disappointing, but there are many things to learn.”

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