The availability of like-for-like replacements has been India’s forte. On Thursday, the BCCI officially confirmed Hardik Pandya’s unavailability for the rest of the Asia Cup. The medium pace all-rounder suffered a back injury during the India-Pakistan match on Wednesday and had to be stretchered off. News about left-arm spinner Axar Patel’s tendon tear in his left index finger and seamer Shardul Thakur’s hip and groin soreness threw up surprises. Patel was an unused squad player in the first two matches of the tournament and according to the Indian cricket board, he picked up the injury while fielding as a substitute against Pakistan. Thakur’s injury happened during the match against Hong Kong.
Deepak Chahar and Sidharth Kaul – the latter was here as a net bowler and returned to India just three days ago after the full squad arrived — have replaced Pandya and Thakur respectively. The third name in the list, Ravindra Jadeja for Patel, offered a throwback.
Jadeja’s last white-ball appearance for India was in the West Indies in July last year. He returned with 0/27 from 10 overs in the final ODI in Jamaica. Three days later, he played a T20 International at the same venue, conceding 41 runs in 3.3 overs. India had been planning a wrist-spin ‘revolution’ and the selectors and team management seemingly took a decision to phase out Jadeja, along with R Ashwin, from limited-overs cricket.
Kuldeep Yadav had been drafted into short-form cricket in the West Indies and made an instant impression. Yuzvendra Chahal joined him a month later, in Sri Lanka. Not that India completely did away with finger spin. Patel went to Sri Lanka, at Jadeja’s expense, and featured in four ODIs. But gradually a paradigm shift ensued.
In the home series against Australia that followed the Lankan sojourn, Jadeja had been brought back to the squad for the first three ODIs before being dropped for the last two. He wasn’t even given a game. More importantly though, that series saw the emergence of Chahal and Yadav as a collective force, with 13 scalps between them in five ODIs. The transition from finger spin to wrist spin started to take shape.
Meanwhile, Kedar Jadhav was growing steadily as a slingy off-spinner, to be used in the middle overs. It gave the team management the required balance. Over the past 12-odd months, Chahal has played 38 ODIs, taking 38 wickets at 24.34. Yadav has featured in 19 ODIs during the same period, accounting for 41 scalps at 19.97. India have won 14 matches, when the two wrist spinners played together. Patel, on the other hand, got just four ODIs in the last one year, notwithstanding his decent batting record. Jadhav’s presence made a specialist third spinner’s role peripheral. He missed the England tour due to a hamstring injury suffered during the IPL. But in England, a third spinner was always going to be surplus to requirements. On his return to the fold, Jadhav proved his value again with a three-wicket haul against Pakistan on Wednesday.
‘Not a stop-gap option’
Jadeja ostensibly rode on his performance in the Oval Test — 86 not out in the first innings and seven wickets in the match to earn a short-form recall. The quality shown by the 29-year-old in the final Test in England was too good to be ignored for any format, especially when a like-for-like finger-spin replacement became the need of the hour. But is it just a stop-gap arrangement to replace an injured player, or Jadeja would be part of the think tank’s plans, with an eye to the World Cup as well?
“I don’t say it’s a stop-gap arrangement. He (Jadeja) is very much in the scheme of things (for the World Cup),” chief selector MSK Prasad told The Indian Express.
Jadeja’s arrival will present the team management with a viable option. With Pandya out, he is the only proper all-rounder in this squad. Chahar bowls medium pace and swings the ball. But his batting averages – 18 and 13 in first-class and List A cricket respectively – barely inspire confidence. Also, he is untested at this level, with only one T20 International against his name.
Then again, three fast bowlers, two specialist spinners and a part-timer in Jadhav has been India’s preferred pattern of late in limited-overs cricket. From the team’s perspective, it’s about striking the right balance.
Jadeja, Chahal and Yadav have never played together in ODIs. Jadeja and Yadav bowled in tandem in the West Indies but by the time Chahal came to the 50-over fold, the axe had fallen on the senior left-arm spinner. In fact, India under Virat Kohli have never used a three-pronged spin attack – three specialist spinners – in a 50-over match.
The Dubai heat, back-to-back matches and the sluggishness of the surfaces make the fast bowlers’ job very difficult. They are always in danger of breaking down. As India face Bangladesh in their first Super Four fixture on Friday, stand-in skipper Rohit Sharma and coach Ravi Shastri might face a tricky choice between Jadeja’s spin and Chahar’s seam.
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