India Bank on Jadeja, Ashwin, Sundar in Hardik’s Absence
Jadeja’s return makes it a pack of four spinning all-rounders, with Shardul as the lone seaming all-rounder.
India’s all-rounder department in the squad for the World Test Championship grand finale and England Tests is rather lopsided in nature.
Ravindra Jadeja’s comeback into the fold makes it a pack of four genuine spinning all-rounders, with Ravichandran Ashwin, Axar Patel, and Washington Sundar completing the quartet. However, Hardik Pandya’s omission leaves India with Shardul Thakur as the lone ranger in the segment of seaming all-rounders.
Dropping a match-winner like Hardik for the all-important final must’ve been a tough call for the selection panel, but it doesn’t take a genius to decipher the logic behind it. The debilitating back spasm coupled with a shoulder niggle has kept him from bowling at full-throttle and India couldn’t afford a chink in their armour.
Hardik’s exclusion was more of a calculated risk than a gamble as India can make do without his military-medium service, given the potency of the pace battery.
Although there’s none denying the fact that his absence will punch a hole in the lower order. Walking in at number seven, Hardik’s counter-attacking 93 resurrected India’s sinking ship against South Africa at Cape Town while his blinder of a cameo worth 52 versus England turned the tide in the visitors’ favour in their solitary win of the Test series. Hardik is a vital cog in India’s wheel, but for now, Virat Kohli will place his trust in the rest of the all-rounders on board.
The Quint conducts a SWOT analysis of the personnel designated to play a dual role in the forthcoming assignments:
Ashwin was the unsung hero of India’s talismanic triumph over Australia in the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. Often spoken of in the same breath as Graeme Swann, India’s frontline spinner not only took care of menaces Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne but also staged a valiant rearguard alongside Hanuma Vihari to bat out a draw. The marathon effort which saw Ashwin negotiate 128 balls shunned the white noise of detractors who passed off judgements that he was no longer a valuable contributor with the bat. And just in case there was any shred of doubt still hanging in the air, Ashwin quashed it once and for all with a sublime ton on his home ground in the second Test against England earlier this year.
Ranked world number two, Ashwin added another feather to his cap as he became the first player since Sir Garfield Sobers in 1966 to score a century and claim a five-wicket haul in the same match against England. Ashwin shining with both his skills is a welcome sign for India, but conditions in the UK will prove to be a different kettle of fish altogether. Thanks to the predominant reliance on sidespin and topspin, Ashwin made merry Down Under with 12 scalps to his name at an average of 28.23. It augurs well for India heading into the England tour that their spin wizard, after years of trial and error, seems to have cracked the overseas code, albeit as far as batting is concerned, England has always been a perplexing puzzle to solve.
The freewheeling right-hander has managed 232 runs in 12 trips to the crease in England, with his best score being an unbeaten 46 at Old Trafford. Always keen on addressing the scope for improvement, Ashwin would be looking forward to biding his time in the middle, as his fluency grows manifold, the longer he stays at the crease.
The alarm bells must be ringing in New Zealand’s camp with the kind of red-hot form Jadeja has been carrying of late. The swashbuckling southpaw made his innumerable critics eat humble pie as a whooping 778 runs have flown from his willow in 21 innings from 2018 onwards. Jadeja’s emergence as a lower-order rock has allowed the likes of Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, and Cheteshwar Pujara the freedom to express themselves and bat with sheer pragmatic intent.
Gone are the days when Test cricket used to be about dead blocks and snoozy slugfests. Proactivity is the new name of the game. The top-order trio can do the trapeze with the awareness that Jadeja’s safety net will come to the rescue in case things go haywire. Such a pro-risk dynamic bodes brilliantly with India’s template of scoring at a fair clip to try and ensure the foot is always ruthlessly jammed on the opposition’s throat.
While the experienced campaigner deserves the plaudits for his batting upsurge, his left-arm spin isn’t the sharpest tool in the box currently. The Jadeja of yore had the precision of a laser-guided missile as he unleashed penny-pinching lines and lengths that so regularly resulted in a stranglehold. However, the tweaker has been guilty of dragging down deliveries in the recent past, which are easy fodder for a batsman eyeing a jailbreak. It could be consistently waning control or simply a repercussion of the stop-start cricket he’s had to contend with, owing to the multiple injuries. Whatever be the trigger point behind this marginal dip in form, one does back a man of Jadeja’s calibre to iron out the flaws and rediscover his inch-perfect mojo. It’s urgent too, for sharp turn takes a backseat in England and accuracy rules the roost.
Rookie Axar Patel, making a splash on debut while Jadeja was on the treatment table, has given India a problem of the riches. But sound batting credentials give the senior pro a definite edge over his fellow statesman.
Sundar has taken to top-flight cricket as nonchalantly as a duck to water. He has been the find of the season, a gun all-rounder capable of batting higher up the order and chipping in with quality off-spin to keep the rivals under siege. Sundar became only the second Indian after Dattu Padhkar to strike a fifty in their debut batting innings and bag three or more wickets in their debut bowling innings. His spotless technique, mental fortitude and ability to apply himself to the match situation is worthy of heaps of praise.
Sundar’s statistics are bound to leave any up-and-coming youngster green with envy. The left-hander has stockpiled 265 runs in 6 Test knocks, at a phenomenal average of 66.25. He’s already got three fifties in the kitty and has more than once come tantalisingly close to reaching his maiden three-figure mark, for instance in the fourth and final Test against England, where he remained stranded on 96* as the tail couldn’t stand its ground.
Sundar’s spinning craft is evidently inferior to the undisputed king of the trade, Ashwin, but his unignorable run-spree has lent India a happy headache. It would be fascinating to see if he gets the captain’s vote in England, although the ploy that batting depth needs to be cushioned on those unfriendly grass-strips does work in his favour.
His debut Test series was a walk in the park for Axar Patel as he picked wickets for fun. England raised the truce flags against his left-arm chicanery as he went on to pocket a mammoth 27 wickets, equalling the record of Dilip Doshi for the highest wickets in a debut Test series. Alike Jadeja at his peak, Axar’s strength lies in bowling wicket to wicket, giving nothing away whatsoever, and eliciting elementary errors from the batsmen. Not being a huge turner of the ball is a blessing in disguise for India’s latest spinning sensation, as a lion’s share of his victims in the aforementioned series were batsmen who played for the turn and ended up either losing their furniture through the gate or were rapped plumb on the pads.
Jadeja is undoubtedly ahead of Axar in the pecking order but having a like-for-like replacement in the engine room doesn’t hurt. The fresh recruit didn’t measure up to the expectations with the bat against England but it would be advisable to not jump the gun on his aptitude. Axar has to his credit 1,720 runs in 42 first-class games at a healthy average of 33.72. In the near future, he must deliver the goods in his secondary job, as well to keep counterparts Sundar, Jadeja and Ashwin on their toes.
Thakur is one among the host of champions arising from thin air in the Border- Gavaskar trophy. A utility cricketer in the truest of tenets, the pace-bowling all-rounder is the living personification of the ‘never-say-die’ spirit. Thakur has a wondrous knack of making things happen out of nowhere. Like he did against Australia, treating the vaunted attack with utter disdain as he spiffed an aesthetic 67 to wrestle ascendancy from the hosts. His match-figures read an ultra-crucial 7/155 and hence, it wouldn’t be a hyperbolic assessment to say that Shardul was the driving force behind India’s morale-lifting victory at Brisbane, which in turn had a cascading effect on the tourists as they scripted another epoch-making conquest at the Gabba.
Common wisdom suggests that Thakur will be confined to the bench in the title joust against New Zealand as India’s pace arsenal is loaded to the brim. Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, and Mohammed Siraj should be the certain starters, although quicks are susceptible to niggles in the cold weather of England and in the unfortunate event of an injury to a spearhead, you can have blind faith in Thakur that he will come in the clutch and grab his opportunity with both hands.
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