How will India spin the web to Aussies?
Posted January 20, 2023 in Indian Team.
The World Test Championship Cycle of 2021–23 is on the cusp of giving us the final two teams who would be at loggerheads at the Oval Cricket Ground, England, in June 23. According to the results of the recently concluded test matches, the two teams that are at the forefront of making it into the finals are Australia and the runners-up of the 2022 World Cup Finals, India. The fans will be treated to a spectacle as they watch the two cricket titans go head-to-head in a possible dress rehearsal before the finals, as India will host Australia for the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, which will begin on February 9 at the Vidarbha Cricket Association Stadium in Nagpur.
India scored distinction in bouncing conditions, winning 2-1. Will Australia by-pass the spin exam?
India who currently holds the Border-Gavaskar trophy thanks to a meritorious 2-1 series victory down under in 2020-21. That comeback! That damned comeback, after being bowled out for 36 in the first test, elevates this series win far above India's other overseas triumphs. While India has breached Australia twice in consecutive series held in Kangaroo Land (2018–19 and 2020–21), Australia hasn't been able to beat India in India since 2004–05, nearly 18 years since they last flurried their flag by winning a test series in India. This year too, the challenge will be different for Australia as India will be eyeing a 3-1 or 4-0 clean sweep to ensure a spot in the WTC finals. After thrashing Australia and breaching their ever-so-prestigious Gabba, the Indian team stood up to the pace, the bounce, and the bruises in-between but went on to be victorious in conditions favourable to the Australian team. And if India dominates against the pace and bounces in overseas conditions, Australians should be able to prove their mettle in Indian conditions. After all, it’s the battle towards becoming the best test-playing nation in the world! If at all Australians want to prepare in advance for something, it should be "Spin, Spin, and some more Spin."
India’s spin combinations: who will spearhead along with Ashwin?
India, on the other hand, will leave no stone unturned in their pursuit of dismissing Australian batters.If Australia's pace and bounce made India duck, Indian bowlers will make Australian batters put on their dancing shoes to face India's blood-curdling spin attack. The four-match test series will be played in Nagpur, Delhi, Dharamsala, and Ahmedabad, all pretty much on spin-friendly wickets because, well, it’s India. What else were the Aussies expecting? Afterall? However, with India, the challenge is different this time around as India’s torch-bearing all-rounder, Mr. Ravindra Jadeja, is likely to miss the Test series, or even if he gets fit in time before the squad is announced, India would not want to risk him given there is an ODI World Cup later this year. India’s likely options are Axar Patel, Kuldeep Yadav, or, if Indian selectors decide to go back to our roots of domestic cricket, spinners like Shams Mulani, Kumar Kartikeya, Shahbaz Nadeem, Jalaj Saxena, and Mayank Mishra, who have been knocking on the doors of the Indian red ball team with steady performances in the last and current Ranji Trophy season.
Crunching the numbers:
So the question that now arises is, "Who will be India’s second and third spinners?" Ravichandran Ashwin, without a doubt, will be licking his lips to spin a web around the Aussies. According to previous international test match statistics, Axar Patel, India's fourth-highest wicket-taker in test matches in India, took 36 wickets in just 10 innings at a blistering strike rate of 33.11 between January 2018 and January 2023. Patel’s strike is also the best by any Indian spinner in the said duration, with the second-best being Kuldeep Yadav (39.17), followed by Ravichandran Ashwin (41.89). As per the numbers and an apple-to-apple replacement, Axar Patel is almost certain to play in the four-match test series if Ravindra Jadeja fails to recover in time. A look at India’s spin bowlers’ performance in Indian conditions since January 2018.
Will Indian selectors test the domestic spin force?
Will India now take a chance on Kuldeep Yadav, who has 12 wickets on Indian pitches between 2021 and 2023 and a five-wicket haul against Australia in Australia?Or will India bring in a seasoned domestic campaigner who has belted out and toiled hard on these spinning tracks for the past two years? Someone like Shams Mulani, who was the highest wicket taker (45 wickets) in the 2021-22 season and has gone on to pick 75* wickets in two seasons (2021-22 and current season), or Shahbaz Nadeem, who was the third highest wicket taker (25 wickets) in the 2021-22 season and has picked up a cumulative 50* wickets inclusive of the current and previous seasons. Both of these bowlers will give India the same flavour as Axar or Jadeja with the left arm orthodox angle and some stability with the bat too, as both are bowling allrounders, which is exactly the need of the hour for India. Shahbaz, who also made a cut into India’s team touring Bangladesh, might fancy his chances again ahead of Mulani due to the former’s ability with the bat, as he averaged 60.25 in the 2021-22 Ranji Trophy season, scoring 482 runs in 10 innings.
A deep dive into the numbers of the top five Indian domestic spinners' performances in the Ranji Trophy from 2021–22 to 2022–23 (ongoing):
From the outset, it looks like India will more or less go with the same monotonous approach of Ashwin, Axar, and Kuldeep clubbed with one domestic bowler and will not fiddle too much with the bench strength available. While India has truckloads of left-arm orthodox spinners, the Indian think tank should also try to find backups for off-spinner Ashwin, who at most can go on to play another couple of seasons despite being 36 years old already. And apart from Jalaj Saxena, who has picked up 32 wickets in two seasons (including the ongoing RT season), there aren’t many options for Indian selectors to look deep into, much like the Hardik Pandya replacement saga. It will be interesting to see how the new Indian selectors, led by the same chief selector, fare before an all-important test series.
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