Indian team management would be looking towards Axar over Kuldeep for third spinner slot, says Kumble

January 24, 2024
Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja being absolute certainties in India’s playing eleven for the first Test against England starting in Hyderabad

New Delhi, Jan 24 (IANS) With Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja being absolute certainties in India’s playing eleven for the first Test against England starting in Hyderabad on Thursday, the question which now remains is who between Axar Patel or Kuldeep Yadav will grab that vacant spin-bowling slot.

With many left guessing over the Axar-Kuldeep toss-up, legendary leg-spinner and former India head coach Anil Kumble believes the team management would be leaning in favour of picking Axar over Kuldeep due to the former’s impressive run in the 2021 series against the same opposition on home soil.

“In terms of the preferred third spinner, if the conditions are spin-friendly, which I am assuming that it would be, then the preferred spinner would be Axar Patel, because of what he brings to the table in terms of his batting and all-round abilities. But if it’s a really good batting surface, then the preference would be for Kuldeep as the third spinner.”

“I certainly believe that for the first Test match, because of the success Axar had in his first Test series when England toured India last time, the Indian team management would be looking towards Axar over Kuldeep,” said Kumble, an expert with JioCinema and Sports18, in a virtual media interaction.

In 2021, Axar shined in his debut Test series against England, picking 27 wickets in three games, including four five-wicket hauls. Apart from taking 50 wickets in 12 Tests and being prominent in getting a majority of his scalps either bowled or lbw, Axar has also been a useful batter, seen from him slamming four half-centuries in the format.

On the other hand, Kuldeep has played only eight Tests for India since his debut against Australia in March 2017. But he has been a mainstay in the white-ball format by attacking the stumps constantly and took four wickets across 26 overs in both innings for Uttar Pradesh in their Ranji Trophy match against Kerala earlier this month.

In his pre-match press conference, India captain Rohit Sharma acknowledged the all-round abilities of Axar and the ‘x-factor’ which Kuldeep brings to the table, while admitting that deciding between the two is a happy headache. “Kuldeep gives you a certain X-factor with his bowling. You’ve seen how well he’s been bowling of late. Especially the wicket if it has bounce, or if it doesn’t have bounce, Kuldeep becomes a factor in those types of conditions as well because he has got superb variations.”

“He is also a much more mature bowler now. He has not played a lot of Test cricket in India because of Ashwin and Jadeja clearly. But that is what happens. Like with our middle order, all of us got an opportunity really late. But that’s the reality of it. You can’t hide from it.”

“But Kuldeep being the bowler he is now, from what he was a couple of years back, he is much more improved and he is a very tempting option without a doubt. Axar with his all-round ability, giving us that batting depth, the consistency that he has shown playing in these conditions in Test cricket also is an important factor for us.”

“It was a bit of a headache for us to decide who it was going to be. I’m not going to say who it is but it was a challenge for us to make that decision. We know we’ve got quality around our spin-bowling department, which is a good sign. When you’ve got quality around your team, when there’s a headache to make your playing XI, that’s a good sign.”

England are fielding three frontline spinners in Jack Leach, Rehan Ahmed and debutant Tom Hartley, with only one fast bowler in Mark Wood for the series opener at the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium. Left-arm spinner Leach played in India on the 2021 tour and Joe Root even got a five-wicket haul via his part-time off-spin.

Their young spin trio of leg-spinner Ahmed, left-arm spinner Hartley and off-spinner Shoaib Bashir, set to arrive in India over the weekend after obtaining the visa, have a collective experience of just one Test match between themselves.

Moreover, the first-class matches of the trio don’t collectively touch even 40 games. Kumble, who picked 619 Test wickets for India, opined that excelling in the five-match series will be an enormous task for the novice England spin trio.

“It will all depend on how Leach leads the spin attack. By picking three spinners, the English team management had a look at the pitch and they believe it’s going to take turn. So, in that sense, with just one fast-bowler in that line-up, it will be interesting to see how they go about it.”

“I certainly thought that with Harry Brook not being available, they had the choice of going with Bairstow as a keeper and bring in another fast-bowler. But they brought in Ben Foakes, who would be keeping and included just one fast-bowler. With Ben Stokes unsure of how much bowling he would do, it will be interesting to see how they go about it.”

“But it’s a highly inexperienced bowling line-up and it’s going to be a massive challenge for young spinners, especially for Rehan Ahmed and Tom Hartley, to build pressure on this wonderful Indian batting line-up.”



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