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Cricket news - Hardik Pandya eyes return during New Zealand series

Hardik has not played competitive cricket since the Bangalore T20I against South Africa in mid-September.

Hardik has not played competitive cricket since the Bangalore T20I against South Africa in mid-September.

India all-rounder Hardik Pandya is hopeful of returning to international cricket around February 2020, midway through India's scheduled tour of New Zealand. Hardik, laid low by a chronic back injury which required surgical intervention, has not played competitively since the Bengaluru T20I against South Africa in mid-September.

As per his current rehabilitation program, the 26-year-old is optimisitic that he can get back to international action early next year, play a full season of the IPL as he builds up to peak operating capacity by the time the T20 WC rolls around. He revealed that in lieu of the impending assignments, it was imperative for him to take the surgical option at the earliest and hopefully draw a line under an injury he's had to manage for nearly five years now.

"We decided to do the surgery now because we saw the future and thought this is the right time," Hardik was quoted as saying by IANS. "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.

"That was the plan that I play some international games, the IPL and then the T20 WC. The biggest concern was the T20 WC which touch wood is now in place. I could have done the surgery a month later, but it would not have helped me in any way," he said. "I was feeling the difference in my back and wasn't able to take it."

The decision to push for surgery was taken in late September in consultation with Team India physiotherapist Yogesh Parmar. Hardik had returned to the national side for the South Africa T20Is after being rested in India's post-World Cup assignment in the Caribbean. Curiously Hardik first complained of the back problem at the Asia Cup last year. Pandya was also ruled out of the T20Is and ODIs against Australia at home earlier this year because of lower back stiffness.

"I was managing the back, tried everything possible not to get into surgery or anything. After trying everything, we came to the conclusion that it wasn't working. I noticed that I was not able to give my 100 per cent and that meant I was not doing justice to myself and the team. That is when I decided to go for the surgery," he added.

Hardik also underscored the importance of mental recovery and easing his return, citing examples of both Pat Cummins and Jasprit Bumrah, who've battled past big injuries in the past. "I have seen Pat Cummins coming back from injury being stronger than before. I have seen Jasprit Bumrah having a knee surgery and coming back and be what he is right now. I have seen cricketers come back from bad injuries and surgeries and I have spoken to them and learnt that patience is very important. After a knife touches your body, it becomes fragile. So, you have to give 200 per cent while making the return.

"It might sound cool, but it is not easy to keep coming back as you need motivation. Yes, we all have motivation, but you need to be sure that you do not go down the wrong path. You don't question yourself and why is it happening to you. I try and back myself and stay positive. I have understood that every comeback gives me an edge and makes me stronger. I want people to say I learnt something when I was away due to injury. Physically I can always come back, but mentally it is important to stay healthy."

"It is very important that you don't rush. If your body is not ready and force yourself to come back right now, without being prepared, you might break down again," Pandya said. "So that is the thing why people call for patience. Injuries are not easy, but being patient is important."

Hardik, who had the surgery in London on October 5, has returned to Mumbai but is still in the early stages of his post-op period. He will take more time to begin bowling or getting involved in any cricket-specific activity. There is an outside chance of him playing in the Ranji Trophy at a later stage, although those calls are still up to conjecture at this point.

India, who are hosting West Indies currently, will play Sri Lanka and then have Australia visiting at the turn of the new year for three ODIs at home in January. They will travel to New Zealand in late January to play five T20Is, three ODIs and two Tests.

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