Three spinners for England, in retrospect, could either be a gamble or a master-stroke, But it also instills some intrigue in the build-up to the series, especially in terms of who among the three or how many will feature.
Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin, ranked Nos 3 and 5 respectively in the ICC rankings, were the obvious picks having played stellar roles in India’s domination in the longer format over the last two years, there were no prizes for guessing who the third spinner would be. Kuldeep Yadav, with his exciting brand of wrist spin, prised out 14 Englishmen during the limited-overs leg of this tour. Based on current form, Kuldeep should ideally be playing the opening Test in Birmingham as captain Virat Kohli and the team management have been big advocates of picking players based on current form. And if they decide to include two spinners, the seasoned Ashwin could probably nudge out the Saurashtra left-arm spinner.
But due to all his experience and utility as a cricketer, Jadeja’s name is bound to crop up in discussions before each of these five Tests. What could possibly work in his favour this time around could be the unusual English summer — the warmest in over 50 years. With temperatures soaring as high as 33 C, it could have a bearing on the pitches as well. Seeing the dry, almost arid conditions in England made commentator Harsha Bhogle chime in jest: “The English summer is almost looking like an Indian summer.”
If these conditions hold for the entire duration of the series, Jadeja would be eagerly waiting for his opportunity. Saurashtra coach Sitanshu Kotak, someone who has seen Jadeja’s progression through his formative years, said: “If the wickets are dry, woh khol dega. He is a street-smart cricketer. I don’t know whether he will get a chance to play in England, given there is Ashwin and also because Kuldeep is bowling so well. That’s really not for me to comment as I don’t know what the team management is thinking. But I’m sure that if he (Jadeja) gets a chance, he will perform and make it count.” Jadeja has prospered and built his aura by largely steamrolling over opposition batsmen on dry, dusty tracks at home. Rarely has he managed to replicate his heady success in the sub-continent on the not-so-favourable conditions at the Basin Reserve or Newlands.
A break-up of his home and away bowling record puts things into perspective. In a career spanning six years, the 29-year-old has featured in 36 Tests, in which he has prised out 170 scalps at an average of just a shade over 23.
However, his record overseas paints a more sobering picture — 34 wickets from 10 Tests at an average of 36.82. Even during India’s ill-fated tour to the United Kingdom four summers ago, he finished with just nine scalps from four Tests.
Despite the not-so flattering overseas numbers, the left-arm spinner is a far more evolved bowler now than what he was back in 2014.
Meeting former leg-spinner Narendra Hirwani on the insistence of former India coach Anil Kumble at the National Cricket Academy (NCA) in Bengaluru in the winter of 2016 played a key role in his evolution. “When he came to me, the first thing I had told him was: ‘Mobile ko update karne ke jaise apna bowling ko bhi update karo, raja’. His line and length was always top-class, but it’s the subtle variations in pace that was lacking in him. He spent time with me and managed to bowl much slower without changing his pivot or arm speed. From 95kmph, he could drop it to 80-82kmph. Adding this subtlety helped him in his bowling,” Hirwani explained.
Since his Test debut, he has been the go-to bowler for both his Test captains— MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli—who have reposed their unmitigated trust in him. There are some factors that underline his utility. He is well equipped to bowl with the hard new ball. On overseas tours, both Dhoni and Kohli have preferred to use him as a stock bowler — someone who would just bottle one end up.
In all these years, this is a role that the 29-year-old has fulfilled with minimum fuss. On a long tour such as the current one, it’s imperative that the fast bowlers get ample rest and are used in shorter bursts, especially when one considers the fact that both Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar will be out of at least the first three Tests. In such a scenario, Jadeja can bowl dry in his long, marathon spells. There’s also a method to Jadeja’s craft. He gets ample dip, and also gets the ball to skid off the surface. He uses the crease intelligently, and is not afraid, at times, to bowl from wide off the crease. Another skill is his ability to bowl the straighter one – a delivery that would hold its line even on rank turners.
Jadeja’s go-to weapon in England would be his stock delivery— the one that turns away sharply from leg to off. Despite all the hype surrounding Kuldeep at the moment, the chinaman bowler is still largely untested in the game’s longest format, and if he has a bad game early on, it could open the door for Jadeja.
Ashwin back in county
India off-spinner Ravicahndran Ashwin has signed up for Worcestershire and will stay back in England after the Test series to take part in the final two rounds of the County Championship. Ashwin has joined Worcestershire for the final two county matches against Essex at Chelmsford and Yorkshire at Blackfinch New Road.