‘Batting depth’ – This terms has been used more than ever in Indian cricket across all formats over the last couple of years. Be it ODI, T20I or Tests, the management has preferred to have more depth in batting thereby preferring batting/bowling all-rounders over specialists especially at the number eight slot. Even in the ongoing series against England, the troika of spinners – Ravi Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Axar Patel – all played together thanks to their batting prowess.
Before the England series started, these three players would’ve clearly made it to the playing XI but two Test matches down, things are not that easy. The reason is the India spinners underperforming in their own den much to the surprise of many. Injury to Jadeja meant that they had to play Kuldeep Yadav for the first time since December 2022 when he had picked eight wickets against Bangladesh away from home.
However, come the third Test, Jadeja is expected to be fit and yet again, there is a possibility of the left-arm wrist spinner being benched unless India decide to be brave enough. The reason why playing Kuldeep would benefit is Axar being ineffective not only in the two Tests so far with the ball but also since the start of 2023. The Gujarat cricketer has picked only eight wickets in Test cricket in 11 innings at an average of 49 and a strike-rate of almost 100. Now here comes the catch – during the same period, Axar has scored runs at an average of more than 56.
This might tilt things in his favour as even in this series, the left-hander has mustered 133 runs in four innings so far while picking up only five wickets. If Jadeja is fit, it is very much clear that India will play either Axar or Kuldeep and field two seamers in Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Siraj unless it is a square turner and four spinners are required.
The management certainly has a selection puzzle to address in this case, more so after Kuldeep’s brilliant show in Visakhapatnam picking up four wickets and looked more in control with the ball when compared to Axar. It is a case of India being brave or defensive for India and looking at the situation and the pitches so far, one feels that they should opt for the former option as Kuldeep is a far more wicket-taking option on unresponsive pitches.