Hardik Pandya‘s recovery from injury has already been a protracted process, and led to him being recently ruled out of India’s upcoming Test series in New Zealand. Hardik had undergone back surgery in October 2019, and hasn’t played any cricket since September 2019. His existing back problems had recurred during the T20I against South Africa in September, following which he opted for surgery. Hardik was optimistic about returning for the New Zealand tour but the BCCI said he needed more time in rehab, and former India fast bowler Zaheer Khan has urged the allrounder to not be impatient and rush into a comeback.

Zaheer, who is also the director of cricket operations for Mumbai Indians – the franchise Hardik represents in the IPL – was speaking from experience, having battled various injuries himself which experts reckoned cost him 100 Test wickets.

The former fast bowler said Hardik should focus on giving adequate time for his body to recover from the back surgery and “come back 120 percent”, and not get anxious about returning.

“For Hardik it’s important he should take his time to come back 120 percent,” Zaheer said at a Mumbai Indians’ event in Mumbai on Monday. “I can say it by experience: when anyone goes through injuries, it’s not about coming back, it’s about how you come back.”

Having missed the New Zealand tour, Hardik’s next opportunity to play for India could be the three-match home ODI series against South Africa in March, which will end about 10 days before the IPL begins. Zaheer wanted Hardik to look at the bigger picture and not immediate needs. “You have to be patient through that process and you have to listen to the team which is around you – the support staff, be it your doctor, your physio, your trainers. Those are the key people one should communicate with and control the controllables. I have always been advising everyone in the same fashion: you have to take your time; you cannot be impatient and rush your comeback. It’s about when you come back, you should be in for a long haul.”

“For Hardik it’s important he should take his time to come back 120 percent. I can say it by experience: when anyone goes through injuries, it’s not about coming back, it’s about how you come back.”

ZAHEER KHAN

Zaheer, who retired in 2015 after realising his bowling shoulder “may not last the rigours of bowling nearly eighteen overs a day”, said Hardik needed to listen to his body first. “I will say this to anyone who is a sportsman and is going through an injury phase. It’s frustrating at times when you’re away from the game, but it’s very important to stay patient and do the right things and control things in your control. It’s about listening to your body, getting more than 100%, making sure you’ve ticked all the boxes, and then make a comeback.”

Hardik’s last Test was the final match of the England tour in August-September 2018. Immediately after that his back issue had surfaced. In December 2018, he played his last first-class match (for Baroda against Mumbai) before heading to the Indian Test camp during the Australia series even though he did not feature in any of the matches. In December 2019, he told IANS, that he hoped to be fit in time to come back for the New Zealand series, building-up to the T20 World Cup in October-November.

“We thought this was the right time because even if I take four months I will be coming back before the New Zealand series, mid-way actually,” Hardik had said. “That was the plan that I play some international games, the IPL and then the World T20. The biggest concern was the World T20 which touch wood is now in place.”

Zaheer, however, was optimistic that despite the absence of Hardik and senior pacer Ishant Sharma, who himself is recovering from a grade-three tear ankle tear suffered at a Ranji Trophy game last month, the Indian pace-attack was well-rounded – and well backed up by the “abundance of talent” on its bench – to deal with the rigours of Test cricket.

“What was the result in the previous one [series]?” Zaheer asked, smiling. “I think it’s not about that; it’s about putting up a team there together. That’s the strength right now this Indian team has. The strength of any squad is seen with their bench strength as well.

“We are in a position at the moment where the talent and pool of players we have is excellent, the roles are shared by different people. So, if you are telling me the team is affected right now, then I am with you (laughs), but I think it’s about keeping the processes going and the performances as a team going in the right direction. We are in a great space as a team at the moment with regard to that, just the abundance of talent available at your disposal.”

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