India might prefer Axar Patel over Washington Sundar for first England Test – Reports

India are most likely to field six batsmen and five bowlers in the opening Test [Credits: BCCI]

Selection headaches are seemingly looming large over the Indian team management ahead of the opening Test against England. But reports indicate that the hosts might be tempted to give Axar Patel the nod ahead of Washington Sundar in a bowling department comprising three spinners and two pacers.

The first of the four-match Test series begins on Friday (February 5), at the MA Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai. It is learnt that the Chepauk track is bearing a traditional look as of now, meaning it is supposed to aid turn on the last two days. As a result, India are likely to field a spin-heavy bowling attack.

While Ravichandran Ashwin and Kuldeep Yadav are the first two picks, it will be a toss up between Washington Sundar and Axar Patel for the third spinner’s slot. Sundar’s exploits with the bat against Australia at the Gabba last month makes him fit as an all-rounder.

But England’s recent struggles against left-arm spin in Sri Lanka tilt the scale in favour of Axar, who is yet to represent India in the longest format.

A source privy to the developments told TOI:

“If the management wants more depth in batting, Washi should get a go. But Sri Lankan left-arm spinner Lasith Embuldeniya had a lot of success against the England batsmen a week back and they may be tempted to go with Axar. A left-arm spinner also brings more control on the proceedings.”

Notably, Axar Patel – who last played for India in a T20I in 2018 – has a better batting average in first-class cricket than Washington Sundar’s 32.42. In 39 matches, the 27-year-old from Gujarat has scored 1,665 runs at an average of 35.42, with one hundred and 13 fifties to his name.

India’s recent success in Australia revolved majorly around newcomers shining on the big stage. But with the senior pros having regained fitness, none of the speedsters who played in Brisbane will feature in the Chennai Test.

While T Natarajan isn’t part of the Test squad, Mohammed Siraj – who picked a five-wicket haul in the second innings at the Gabba – and Shardul Thakur are likely to be replaced by 32-year-old Ishant Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah.

“It’s true that Siraj has done well in Australia but if there are no fitness issues with Ishant, his experience will help him get the nod for the first Test with Jasprit Bumrah,” the source added.

With captain Virat Kohli back in the squad, India’s top-five looks set, with Rishabh Pant most likely to don the wicket-keeping gloves, followed by either of Axar Patel or Washington Sundar at No.7. 

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