Traditionally India has never been a powerhouse of pace bowling all-rounders. It's an area that the team has failed to find a solution for over the years. The likes of England and South Africa have produced some magnificent all-rounders like Ian Botham, Andrew Flintoff, Jacques Kallis, and Shaun Pollock to name a few. India, however, boasts only of Kapil Dev as a genuine fast bowling all-rounder in history.
Not many all-rounders in India have become greats of the game in India. In recent times, the likes of Irfan Pathan and Stuart Binny have emerged on the scene and given hope to fans. While Irfan was a vital cog of the Indian team for about 4-5 years before fading off, Binny, the son of the famous Indian fast-bowler, Roger Binny, did not have much to appreciate in his career.
The latest one in the race to succeed Kapil Dev as India's next great all-rounder is Hardik Pandya. He's been around for a couple of years now and has taken his game to a different level since he burst on the scene.
While he is still not a regular in the playing eleven of the test team, India has pinned a lot of hopes on him. Clearly, he has a lot of work to do with both bat and ball to claim his spot in the longer format. One can say that constant comparisons with Kapil Dev have not helped his cause
However, in limited overs cricket, he has gradually become an instrumental part of the Indian side. Not only has he assumed the role of the new finisher in the batting department but also he has started to complete his full quota of overs more regularly. There is no doubt that Pandya provides the team with the right balance.
What has now raised concerns for team India is his persistent lower back-injury. He was out for almost three months after his injury in the Asia Cup last year. The same injury seems to have returned ahead of the current series against Australia. With the World Cup fast approaching, it is extremely important for India to have back up option's ready.
Who are India's alternative options?
The first option is Ravindra Jadeja who started his second innings as a white-ball player for India in the 2018 Asia Cup. While he has managed to bowl a few good spells of left-arm spin but his batting does not give the confidence to have him as the back-up all-rounder for Pandya at the World Cup. This was evident from his batting struggles in the last two ODI matches against Australia. Although he is arguably the best fielder in the country, that can not be the only criteria to select a player for such a big tournament.
Over the last couple of months, India has also tried Vijay Shankar as an option for the spot. By now, it's clear that he is not really a genuine all-rounder but a pure batsman who can bowl. If Kohli plays him as the fifth bowler, the team will need another player like Kedar Jadhav who also bowl a few overs. Both of them together can make a fifth bowler for India but neither can do the job individually.
In such a high-pressure competition, India needs a genuine fifth bowler whom the captain can bank on. On his off day, this fifth bowler can be supported by a sixth bowler like Shankar or Jadhav but not on a regular basis. With Pandya missing, India does not have any such option.
What are India's options?
To address this issue, India can look to play five pure bowlers and back its top six batsmen to do the job. However, this is extremely risky with the fragile tail India has. Moreover, you need a good batting option at number seven to finish off the innings as well as play with a calculated approach if there is a batting collapse.
India can only hope that Pandya is taken cure of during the IPL and he remains fit throughout the World Cup. At the moment, he is an indispensable part of this Indian limited-overs set up.