India in England

Beware Ashwin, Jadeja: Kuldeep is surpassing expectations and is primed for a regular spot in Tests

The 23-year-old bagged a five-wicket haul in his first T20I in England and, on Thursday, took six wickets in the ODI series opener.

Kuldeep Yadav came into the tour of England with no prior experience of ever playing in the country.

Ten days into the tour, the 23-year-old first notched up a five-wicket haul in his first Twenty20 and then, on Thursday, took six wickets in the ODI series opener in the Old Blighty.

Kuldeep produced a stunning bowling performance on Thursday to break the back of the England batting order. He dismissed the England top three of Jason Roy, Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow in a spell of 10 balls, conceding just five runs in the bargain. He would then go on to dismiss Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes, who were threatening to stage a fightback, before rounding up the outing with the dismissal of David Willey.

England were ultimately bowled out for 268, before India chased down the target with eight wickets to spare.

England have indeed struggled to pick the left-arm wrist spinner so far. They have failed to read him from the hand or off the pitch. England skipper Eoin Morgan admitted that his batsmen were left bamboozled by the spinner and would need to figure out how to face him in the long tour ahead.

Given Kuldeep’s form in the last few months, there were talks of him cementing a regular place in the Test team pretty soon. But based on his performance in England so far, it looks more like a foregone conclusion.

“Looking at the England batsmen struggling we might be tempted to do that,” said skipper Virat Kohli when asked about the chances of Kuldeep’s entry into the Test squad for the upcoming five-match series.

Change of guard

It was after the 2018 Champions Trophy in England that India’s team management felt the need to tinker with the spin department. The performance of India’s then regular spinners, R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, was below par. With the 2019 World Cup set to be played in England, they realised a new approach was the order of the day. Soon, the experienced pros were sidelined and wrist spinners Kuldeep and Yuzvendra Chahal were given an opportunity to express themselves.

Their bright performance in South Africa earlier this year was further proof that the experiment was bearing positive results. Kuldeep’s star turn in the limited-overs series in England has only reiterated the impact of wrist spinners on hard wickets. To compound England’s woes, Kuldeep’s action is all but indecipherable.

Morgan admitted that the lack of quality chinaman bowlers in the world had made the task of batting against Kuldeep all the more difficult. The hosts used a spin-bowling machine to train ahead of the series, but reading Kuldeep from the hand remains an issue.

The Indian team management would definitely be tempted to utilise his services in the longer format against England.

“I am hoping for the call and let’s see what happens in a couple days when they announce the Test team,” said Kuldeep, who has so far played two Tests and bagged nine wickets.

Last year, it Jasprit Bumrah who rose through the ranks to earn a regular spot in Tests on back of his stellar performances in the limited-overs and the team management has shown that it is not too fazed by names and will readily make a change on merit alone.

Conditions will play a part

Considering the conditions in England, it might not be feasible to use two spinners in every match during the five-Test series. One spinner and three pacers is the standard that is largely adopted by most teams.

In such a scenario the team management would have to make the difficult call of dropping Ashwin in favour of Kuldeep. In South Africa, Ashwin was the lone spinner used by India.

However, it’s been a particularly hot summer so far in England. Over the past few years, curators have largely dished out pitches that aren’t exactly seam friendly. That could allow India the possibility of fielding two spinners in the XI. At this juncture, it is likely the team management would choose Kuldeep ahead of Jadeja.

Prior to this trip to England, inexperience was Kuldeep’s only limitation. Having never played in the United Kingdom, it was a challenge for him to assure the selectors of his ability to find turn in all conditions.

After Thursday, this is unlikely to be a concern for the selectors. Kuldeep is not only meeting expectations, he’s now surpassing them. He has laid down the marker and is primed for a regular Test spot. Ashwin and Jadeja, beware.

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