“ANYTHING IS possible with the selections for Tests and there might be a few surprises. Kuldeep (Yadav) is making a strong case for himself and so is (Yuzvendra) Chahal. And looking at the way, the English batsmen have struggled against them; we might be tempted to do it.” With this loaded admission of temptation following the first ODI in Nottingham, Virat Kohli had successfully fired a salvo of anxiety-inducing strikes in three specific directions.
It was perhaps a not-so-subtle hint to the Indian selectors, who have left the Test squad announcement to later than usual, of the team management’s idea or choice of India’s bowling arsenal. Kohli’s words also drew a vague yet ominous cloud over the immediate futures of Test regulars R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, at least in terms of their place in the playing XI. And most importantly, it meant that the English batsmen are still a long way from getting done wrestling with “chinaman-shaped” shadows this summer.
To see Yadav playing the first Test though wouldn’t count as a “surprise”. It looks more like a certainty now than a possibility that Kohli spoke of. If anything, it would be surprising to not see him give the ball a rip at Edgbaston. Not after he’s bamboozled the English batsmen over the last 10 days and snared 11 wickets at an average of 7.54 apiece in three limited-overs matches.
Sceptics might point at the Rashid Khan example here, where the Afghani mystery spinner was expected to be a big threat with the red ball based on his IPL exploits but failed to make a mark in the Test at Bangalore. But Yadav has already made a strong enough case with his mode of dismissals in England so far to dispel those fears. Some of his victims have indeed fallen while taking him on, like it is with any spinner in the shorter formats.
But Yadav got rid of England’s best two players of spin — Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow—in a more traditional fashion. Take a look at the two occasions that Root and Bairstow have got out to him, and you could easily replace the coloured clothing with whites and expect to see the exact same replays being played out.
Root may have been completely stumped by Yadav during the first T20I — quite literally —but his dismissal at Trent Bridge on Thursday was a glimpse into just how out of depth the English batsmen are in fathoming the Indian chinaman’s trickery. The England Test captain’s bat is in front of his right pad, which is placed a few inches outside the off-stump while the ball thumps into his left-pad in front of middle-stump. There’s at least a 3-4 inch gap between bat and ball, and a far graver hole in the Englishmen’s confidence against Yadav.
Bairstow, meanwhile, ended up falling to the googly for the second-time running, and didn’t help his team’s cause by shooting another Gatting-esque look of shock on his way back. He too wasn’t playing a shot in anger but trying to gently flick what he’d picked as a stock chinaman delivery towards the direction he perceived the ball would turn. Far too often this tour, Yadav’s deliveries have pitched shorter than what the English have expected them to, and turned in ways they haven’t shaped up for.
Chahal’s is of course a different story. He doesn’t have the most impressive first-class record, having played only 27 matches in a domestic career spanning eight years—the last of which came in December 2016. In his defence, he’s had to contend with playing for a state team that plays most of its matches on the green-tops at Lahli.
He’s also competing with the likes of Amit Mishra and Jayant Yadav to be the solitary spinner in the Haryana line-up. He’s so far proved them wrong. Though the thought of Yadav and Chahal actually teaming up in whites might seem far-fetched at the moment, it might not be unthinkable. It won’t be the first time that MSK Prasad & Co would have gone for the wrist-over-finger option.
Following the Champions Trophy final last year, many shot disbelieving glances at their left-field decision to move on from Ashwin and Jadeja. But in less than a year, as India return to England, Chahal and Yadav have redefined India’s ODI cricket, and they will continue to remain the premier white-ball spinners a year from now when Kohli & Co are back again for the World Cup.
India picked three spinners for the 2011 tour and only two in Ashwin and Jadeja for their 2014 visit. If they were to stick to that format this time around, then it would be intriguing to see which one of them misses out. Yadav’s dramatic performance has been compared in certain circles to Shane Warne’s first foray on English soil 25 years ago. Yadav’s wizardry, which he generates by imparting more revolutions on the ball than an average spinner, allowing him to get more loop and dip, has turned heads in similar fashion.
“Rumours can be tremors,” is what a source close to the selection panel said when asked about the possibility of both Yadav and Chahal making it into the Test squad. Read what you will into it, but for now all surprises seem possible like the captain himself suggested.