A turn for the worse? Not really

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India were head and shoulders above England in Tests, but the white-ball contests were much closer. In matches played largely on flat tracks in Ahmedabad and Pune, wherein batsmen on both sides were among runs, India’s seamers made the decisive difference. There, however, was an unseemly weakness too — the spin department.

As manifested in the last two ODIs, England’s spinners clearly outshone their India counterparts. It throws up a valid question— will the below-par performance of Kuldeep Yadav and Krunal Pandya worry the team management in the T20 World Cup year? Not really.

As was evident by the constant chopping and changing of the playing eleven throughout the series, India were clearly on audition mode. Those who latched onto the opportunities remain in contention for the World T20. The ones who didn’t, nonetheless, have given a glimmer of hope to those knocking on the selectors’ doors. Based on their performance (and non-performance), India has managed to answer several important questions that face their large pool of spin talent.

Have Kuldeep’s stocks nosedived?

Yes, they have. In 12 ODIs since the 2019 World Cup, Kuldeep has taken 12 wickets at an average of 58.41. Before the World Cup, he averaged 23.96 in 51 games. To make matters worse, he has now lost his place as KKR’s second spinner.

That he has not been a regular in the last 18 months has not helped his cause one bit. Hitting predictable lengths and lack of fizz have been the critical reasons for his downward spiral. Former Australian wrist-spinner Brad Hogg has subscribed to a tweak in Kuldeep’s action. “I would like him to straighten up in the delivery stride. He bends his knees a bit too much at release,” he said. The retirement of MS Dhoni, his mentor behind the stumps, has affected him too. “Clearly, when MS Dhoni was behind the stumps, he (Kuldeep) had a captain and a think tank who could help him out,” former England captain Michael Vaughan said on Cricbuzz.

However, it’s premature to write the Kanpur spinner off. With a tweaked action and clarity in mind, he could reclaim his confidence and become the bowler he once was — who delivered that magical ball to dismiss Babar Azam in the 2019 World Cup league game.

Is Yuzvendra Chahal India’s No.1 spinner in shorter formats?

Given his mastery over the craft, skill and deception, he has been India’s best spinner in white-ball cricket in the last four years. He has only gone from strength to strength. For the Royal Challengers Bangalore, he was Kohli’s trump-card in the previous edition, nabbing 21 scalps from 15 games. Like most leg-spinners, he’s more effective against right-handers (7.2 runs per overs) as opposed to left-handers (8.8).

The facet that sets Chahal apart from Kuldeep is his temperament. An attacking mindset too helps. He rarely gets ruffled by batsmen’s onslaughts, and always comes up with a back-up plan. The 30-year-old may have endured a torrid time against England in the T20s, but there’s little doubt that he has the ability to bounce back.

What makes Jadeja an irresistible proposition?

Given his athletic fielding, explosive batting down the order and crafty left-arm spin, he is without doubt India’s finest all-rounder. He cleverly varies pace. His simple, and slightly round-arm, action makes it difficult for batsmen to decipher the subtle shifts in trajectory. However, it’s his firefighting abilities with the bat that makes him a certainty in all three formats. His unbeaten 66 against Australia in the 3rd ODI at Canberra last year propelled India from an arduous 152/5 to a match-winning score of 302.

Where does Axar Patel fit into the current set-up?

Axar had a dream start in Test cricket, prising out 27 scalps in 3 games, but that does not necessarily translate into a spot in the shorter formats. He did feature in the opening T20, but has not managed to break into the playing XI since. In 38 ODIs and 12 T20s, Axar has showcased his ability as a competent, defensive left-arm spinner who can quell the flow of runs. Backed by lower-order utility, he serves as a credible option.

Axar Patel had a brilliant Test series against England. (BCCI)

Should Washington Sundar be India’s all-format spinner?

The jury is still out on that one. The off-spinner has grown in confidence after his recent Test performances. Moreover, in the IPL, he has been RCB’s go-to bowler in Powerplay, conceding less than 7 runs an over in this period. However, he doesn’t possess the variety, acumen or attacking instincts of Ravi Ashwin. He is a handy limited-overs format batsman but is yet to showcase his big-hitting abilities. With a T20I batting average of a shade under 17, he has not yet blossomed into a genuine all-rounder. Nevertheless, the team management has backed the youngster, and has pushed him up the batting order in Jadeja’s absence.

What are Ashwin’s white-ball prospects?

After getting dropped from limited-overs squads post the 2017 Champions Trophy defeat, Ashwin has gone from strength to strength in Tests, even as the team management showed the propensity to field wrist spinners. However, in the previous two seasons for the Delhi Capitals, Ashwin has specialised as a Powerplay spinner, striking once every 19 balls. Former national selector Dilip Vengsarkar has said: “If I were the chief selector (now), I would have brought Ashwin back (to the white ball set-up).” Before the series, Kohli had remarked that since Ashwin and Sundar have the same skill-set, both can’t be included in the squad.

READ | Dilip Vengsarkar calls for an end to R Ashwin’s white-ball exile

It’s a logic that doesn’t have strong legs since left-spinners Jadeja and Axar have coexisted in the squad in the past. With the influx of Rishabh Pant, Hardik Pandya and a raft of big-hitters, India possess enough ammunition in the middle-order, which means they do not necessarily have to depend on Ashwin’s batting. He might not be a sensational game-changing big-hitter but even Sundar hasn’t really set the stage on fire with the bat in shorter versions.

Who are the other spinners in the fray?

A power-hitter and leg spinner, Rahul Tewatia, with his dual gifts, is a welcome addition to the T20 squad. There’s also Rahul Chahar, an effervescent leggie, who has continuously impressed for the Mumbai Indians.

In his solitary international game, he has shown that he could be an ideal back-up for Chahal. Varun Chakravarthy, KKR’s mystery spinner, offers another option. Chakravarthy was a rage in IPL 2020, with 17 of his wickets coming at a strike-rate of just over 18. While these are still early days, if he continues to con batsmen in the upcoming IPL with his unusual action and trajectory, he might land himself a break.



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