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Harbhajan on why Kuldeep should play ahead of Axar

January 22, 2024 18:18 IST

'Kuldeep as a wrist spinner will bring that variation.'

'Axar's selection in Test matches is purely on his batting skills.'

IMAGE: It could turn out to be a close call between Axar Patel and Kuldeep Yadav for the third spinner's slot for the opening Test against England. Photograph: BCCI

Having got to play only eight Tests since making his debut against Australia in 2017 does make Kuldeep Yadav one of the unluckiest Indian cricketers in recent times.

And if the Indian team management under Rahul Dravid follow the 'rank turner' template for the upcoming five-Test series against England, starting on January 25, Kuldeep could end up warming the bench at least in the initial stage of the five-match series.


Former India spinner Harbhajan Singh, who is known for his forthright opinions, feels that although in terms of skill and quality Kuldeep is ahead of Axar, there is no better choice than the Gujarat left-arm spinner if pitches are diabolical in nature.

"Look, the way I look at it that when both (Ravichandran) Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja are in playing eleven and you are looking at a third specialist spinner, it should be Kuldeep.

"Because Kuldeep as a wrist spinner will bring that variation. But I believe Axar's selection in Test matches is purely on his batting skills. At No 8 or 9, he can bat and that's what he brings to the table," Harbhajan, who is currently in Dubai, said.

But the former India spinner wants to set the record straight.

"While Axar brings his superior batting to the table (compared to Kuldeep), I don't see a logic why you need a superior batter at No. 9 when his skill-sets are completely identical with that of Jadeja's.

"You are then taking the aspect of variation out of equation. So for me, ideally, Kuldeep should play," he reasoned.

Axar had taken 50 wickets in 12 Tests but it's only fair to mention that 27 out of those 50 wickets came in his first three Tests against England in 2021 and the next 23 wickets have come in nine games.

Against Australia at home, he got only three wickets in four Test matches including going wicketless in two of those games (Delhi and Indore).

The five Tests will be held in Hyderabad, Visakhapatnam, Rajkot, Ranchi and Dharamsala. Except for the last Test on a pitch which is traditionally known to help pacers but in recent years has turned into a batting belter, all the other four venues will offer significant help for Ashwin and Jadeja.

Axar's biggest plus point on rank turners is not trying to turn the deliveries and just landing it on spot allowing the pitch to do the rest. On crumbling surfaces, he bowls those under-cutters, where the ball skids after landing on its skin rather than seam.

These type of deliveries stay low and batters from SENA countries (South Africa, England, New Zealand and Australia) are often confused whether to go on the frontfoot or backfoot.

But on better tracks, Axar has been found wanting as he doesn't have too many variations in his repertoire.

The plus point for Kuldeep is his ability to extract turn and bounce. Being able to turn the ball back into right-handers and also take it away (left-arm wrist spinner's googly) but there remains a possibility of being slightly slower through the air.

Recently after end of South Africa series, skipper Rohit Sharma reacting to variable bounce and pace on offer in Cape Town had made it clear that no one should complaint if ball turns from the very first session.

Harbhajan also explained the twin-fold reason why Axar will be first preference when the ball turns square.

"If you look at our batting performances on rank turners, you would know that we haven't also done very well. Our batting also could struggle if there is excessive turn and hence you then want a longer tail and that's where Axar comes into effect with his batting.

"Now coming to the bowling. On turners, you need a 'target shooter'. One who would just keep on bowling wicket to wicket, hitting more or less same length over after over.

"On turners, you won't need to turn or show variations to get wickets. When it comes to that discipline, Axar is fantastic at target hitting and hence he remains favourite," Harbhajan added.

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