With Ravindra Jadeja likely to miss the entire England Test series with a broken thumb, India need a replacement – like-for-like ideally, but there aren’t too many players who can do as many things as Jadeja can, and as well. Who are the contenders then? We take a look.
Saxena, now 34, has been waiting to make the step up to the highest level for a really long time. The offspinning-allrounder is a first-class veteran with 123 matches to his name, matches in which he has scored 6334 runs and picked up 347 wickets, putting up outstanding numbers year after year. He’s hit over 500 runs in six out of the last eight Ranji Trophy seasons, and has taken over 40 wickets in three out of the last five seasons. Saxena seemed to have fallen off the selectors’ radar after being kept out of the India A frame for nearly six years, but returned to play against England Lions and South Africa A in 2019. He made 138 runs in four games then, with highest of 61* and picked up nine wickets.
In his favour: With R Ashwin as the primary spinner, Jadeja usually plays as the second spinner and a lower-middle order batsman. Of the options, Saxena probably comes closest to being as versatile as Jadeja is, and might be the best fit in Jadeja’s absence.
Against him: Saxena’s experience is definitely a plus point, but would India prefer a younger player? Also, if Ashwin is fit, would they want a second off spinner? Saxena’s performances have certainly not dipped over the years, and most recently, he returned 3 for 13 in Kerala’s opening Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy match, playing after nearly a year. But seeing that he has been in and out of the ‘A’ side, one wonders if the selectors want to turn to him again or not.
The left-arm spinner picked up 27 wickets in six matches in the 2019-20 Ranji Trophy season, and also made handy contributions with the bat in Gujarat’s run to the semi-final. A regular in the India A teams for a while now, Patel has 134 wickets and 1665 runs in 39 first-class games.
In his favour: He’s played for India and has been a regular in the IPL and in the frame for the Indian white-ball sides, known for his match-winning cameos and monstrous hits in the shorter formats, and also has one first-class century and 13 half-centuries to his name. Patel, almost 27 now, also provides the left-arm spin option and has grown as a strike bowler, especially in the shorter formats, having added new dimensions to his bowling over the years. Knowledge of playing in home conditions in Gujarat might also come in handy for the two Tests scheduled to be played at the new stadium in Ahmedabad.
Against him: Lack of first-class games at home. While he comes with international experience, having played 38 ODIs and 11 T20Is, will Patel’s lack of red-ball experience – 15 Ranji games in the last three seasons – have an impact on his selection? It does seem like he has been slotted in as a short-format player, and not one for the waiting game.
Four wickets on his India debut. The first India No. 9 to hit a Test century. Just when his international career was about to take off, Yadav hit a roadblock with a finger injury, and eventually fell out of favour after playing four Tests across 2016 and 2017. He returned to the domestic circuit for the 2018-19 season and picked up ten wickets in six games for Haryana, and in the 2019-20 season picked up nine wickets in just two games.
In his favour: He’s a more-than-useful lower-order batsman besides being a specialist spinner, with 2172 first-class runs – including a career-best 211 – and 162 wickets. There’s a fair bit of ability there, not to mention Test-playing experience.
Against him: Injuries have denied him game time in the last few years – he’s played just eight Ranji matches in the last couple of seasons. He doesn’t have the weight of recent performances on his side, even if reputation and ability are very much on his side.
Perhaps the best left-arm spinner in India for the past many years, Nadeem is perhaps the No. 1 candidate to slot in for Jadeja even if he isn’t quite the batsman some of the others are. Nadeem has 443 first-class wickets, 83 of which have come for India A at an average of under 30. After years of picking up wickets by the sacksful across formats, Nadeem was rewarded with a Test debut against South Africa at home in 2019 – his only Test so far – where he finished with match figures of 4 for 40.
In his favour: He’s featured regularly for India A and has impressed across the world, and his class is beyond doubt. Since 2017, he has picked up 75 wickets in 18 matches – there’s form on his side too, even though he isn’t getting any younger at 31.
Against him: He is a specialist bowler, with a first-class batting average of 14.64. Not quite the bowling allrounder one would ideally want to replace Jadeja with.
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