India’s star all-rounder Hardik Pandya made a stunning comeback to competitive cricket as he bludgeoned four towering sixes during his 38-run (25 balls) knock for Reliance 1 in the DY Patil T20 Cup on Friday. Pandya also ran swiftly between the wickets to showcase his fitness levels as chief selector MSK Prasad closely monitored the all-rounder’s progress in his first game following back surgery.

The 26-year-old Hardik suffered an acute lower back injury five months ago and underwent a surgery in London, following which he has been rehabilitating at the National Cricket Academy in Bengaluru.

Apart from Pandya, the injured duo of Bhuvaneshwar Kumar, Hardik Pandya and Shikhar Dhawan also made a confident return in the 16th DY Patil T20 Cup. Playing for Reliance 1 in the tournament against Bank of Baroda, Hardik showed his all-round skills with a knock of 38 off 25 balls to help his side post 150 for eight in their 20 overs.

In response, Bank of Baroda were bowled out for just 125 thanks to an incisive spell by India T20I leg-spinner Rahul Chahar (5/18) and Hardik’s spell of three for 26 to help Reliance 1 win by 25 runs. Bhuvneshwar Kumar bowled a sharp spell of 3-0-14-0, while earlier Dhawan scored 14.

Pandya, Dhawan and Bhuvneshwar are all recovering from injuries that have kept them out of action for the Team India for lengthy spells.

Bhuvneshwar did not look in pain even as a slew of former cricketers including Pravin Amre, Kiran More, Zaheer Khan, TA Sekar and Robin Singh (all associated with Mumbai Indians) monitored their fitness.

Outgoing chief selector Prasad seemed pleased with the progress and said, “All three looked in good shape and it was good to see Hardik steaming in.”

Dhawan had suffered a shoulder injury in an ODI series against Australia at home last month while Bhuvneshwar underwent a hernia operation and hasn’t played for India since December 2019.