For the past couple of years, Team India have struggled with an all-rounder conundrum in Test cricket. Their batters can’t bowl and their bowlers can’t bat. Which makes picking someone who can do a bit of both an absolute necessity in the lower order.
Ravindra Jadeja has played that role to perfection in recent times. And how. His bowling and top-class fielding efforts were never in doubt. But the improvement he made in his batting, especially in overseas conditions, made him the perfect 3-dimensional player for Team India.
His importance at home has never in question. Over the past 2 years, his average of 71 is the 4th best amongst all Indian players at home. Although he functioned as a defensive bowler in recent years, Ravindra Jadeja still has 13 wickets to his name in the same period.
And that is why his absence against England poses a problem for India. In his absence, India need to make a tough call when it comes to the all-rounder spot. From seam to spin and experience to youth, India have a big decision to make ahead of the Chennai Test.
We analyse the options at Team India’s disposal, and look at players best suited to fill the gap left by Ravindra Jadeja.
— BCCI (@BCCI) February 3, 2021
The most experienced Test cricketer out of the lot, Hardik Pandya is the only seam bowling all-rounder Team India have currently. While Shardul Thakur displayed he’s no mug with the bat in Australia, the Mumbai pacer still needs to go a long way if he wants to make it as a seam-bowling all-rounder.
Although Hardik Pandya has played 11 Tests, he hasn’t played one since 2018 when he faced England in Southampton. He has only played 1 Test at home, and that too came against an inexperienced Afghanistan side.
His effectiveness as an all-rounder, especially in Tests, depends on his bowling ability. His batting prowess is there for everyone to see, but Team India need to be sure Hardik Pandya can act as a 3rd seamer if they plan to take him in the Test side.
That is unclear at the moment, with Pandya bowling less than 10 overs for Team India since returning from injury. It makes sense to pick him in Chennai if India are confident he can shoulder the bowling burden as Ben Stokes does for England.
Even then, it may not be the best decision to play a seam-bowling all-rounder on a Chennai track that historically favours the spinners.
— Washington Sundar (@Sundarwashi5) February 1, 2021
The man of the moment, Washington Sundar, had a debut to remember in Brisbane. Brought in from the wilderness and put straight into the Test side, Washington Sundar took to the challenge like fish to water.
His performance was a big reason why India won in Brisbane. He bowled tight lines, using the bounce at the Gabba to trouble the batsman. Sundar then showed great temperament as he got India out of a precarious position. The 21-year-old scored 84 runs and picked 4 wickets on debut, but what worked for him in Brisbane may not work in Chennai.
Firstly, he may not get the bounce that he got in Australia. Not known as a big turner of the ball, Washington Sundar may struggle to trouble the England batsman on a turning track.
With England likely to go with a line-up with just 2 left-handers in Ben Stokes and Moeen Ali, Sundar’s potency as an off-spinner comes under question. With Ravichandran Ashwin already present as a premier off-spinner, playing another one may not be the best decision for India.
— CricketNext (@cricketnext) February 4, 2021
The left-field choice out of the three. But it could be the one that pays the highest dividends. The closest like-for-like replacement for Ravindra Jadeja, Axar Patel will make his Test debut for India if picked in Chennai.
Always seen as a limited-overs specialist, there are multiple reasons why India should go with him in the 1st Test. England’s struggles against left-arm spin were evident in Sri Lanka, with Lasith Embuldeniya picking 15 wickets against England.
Axar Patel’s first-class record is testament to the fact that he can fulfil the all-rounder’s role. He has scored 1665 runs in 39 matches, picking 134 wickets in the process. His bowling average in domestic competitions (27.38) is only slightly worse than Jadeja’s (24.04).
India’s Playing XI for 1st Test(imo):
Question is about 2 spots depending on combination + pitch.
What’s your XI?
*Eng have huge weakness vs left arm spin. #INDvENG
— Wasim Jaffer (@WasimJaffer14) January 31, 2021
The 27-year-old can also perform the aggressor’s role while batting down the order. Although not as proficient as Jadeja, Axar Patel can be trusted to score runs quickly. That may be useful if India are looking at a declaration.
Although all all-rounders bring something different to the table, India should go with Axar Patel in Chennai. Hardik Pandya needs time to build up his fitness, and Washington Sundar’s inexperience of bowling in first-class games in India may catch him out in Chennai. Axar Patel allows India to get a like-for-like replacement for Ravindra Jadeja, while also allowing them to test their bench strength even further.