With left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja out of India’s Test squad due to broken thumb, India could field another left-arm spinner Axar Patel for the first Test against England beginning February 5. The challenge for Patel will be matching his senior’s all-round ability and penchant for taking wickets on Indian pitches, something that he does with variations in pace.
Jadeja’s batting has improved over the past few years. In the last three years, his batting average has been 55.57 in Test cricket. The 32-year-old left-hander has scored seven of his 15 half-centuries and one century in the period. In India, he bags wickets in a heap. He has taken 157 of his 220 Test wickets at home.
Patel, who has represented India in 38 ODIs and 11 T20Is, is yet to play a Test, though he has 134 wickets and has scored 1,665 runs at 35.42 in 39 first-class matches. Gujarat’s Patel qualifies as all-rounder and his ability to turn the ball away from right-handed batsmen may prompt the team management to pick him in the XI along with R Ashwin, the off-spinner, who will most likely play the first Test at his home ground, M.A. Chidambaram Stadium.
Off-spinner Washington Sundar and Chinaman bowler Kuldeep Yadav, both of whom bring the ball into the right-hander batsman, are the other spinners in the Indian squad for the first two Tests. There are seven right-handed batsmen out of 10 in the England squad for first two Tests. And three of the six bowlers can bat right-handed.
India don’t have a leg-spinner, so Axar becomes crucial with his left-arm spin. "The advantage of having a left-arm spinner is that with the ball leaving the right-handed batsman, you have more chances of getting the batsman out," former India left-arm spinner Maninder Singh told news agency IANS.
Patel’s exploits at the top level have been in the limited-overs format, but how he would perform at the Test level is yet to be seen. Jadeja’s experience would be missed.
Maninder pointed out a couple of qualities that has made Jadeja important to the Indian team – self-realisation and ability to turn one ball in his initial spell. “The self-realisation Jadeja has had in the past couple of years. He realised that he cannot play for India only on the basis on bowling. He has to improve his batting also, which is why you see that in the last few years, his batting has been great. He has understood that he has limitations in bowling but if he has to play he will to play as a batting all-rounder and he has scored runs. We will have to see if the newcomer (Axar) has that,” said Maninder.
Maninder, 55, said that Jadeja's ability to turn one ball early in his innings often puts doubt in batsmen`s mind. From there, the Saurashtra spinner could exploit with his accuracy. “A spinner has to turn one ball to put doubt in the batsman`s mind. He will always think the bowler has the ability to turn the ball. Jadeja has the quality that he can turn one ball in his initial spell on good wickets somehow. Then he uses his accuracy with great advantage,” he said.
Patel’s returns with the bat in the ODIs haven`t been too impressive. He averages just 12.92. He has also picked 45 wickets and his concern was keeping the economy rate under check.