, who has played only eight Tests since his debut against Australia in 2017, is considered one of the unluckiest Indian cricketers in recent times. However, with the upcoming
series starting on January 25 and the potential use of “rank turner” pitches by the Indian team management under
, Kuldeep might find himself on the bench, at least initially, in the five-match series.
, the former India spin great known for his candid opinions, believes that while Kuldeep may have the edge in skill and quality over the Gujarat left-arm spinner, if the pitches turn out to be extremely challenging, there is no better choice than
for the team.
“Look, the way I look at it is that when both R
are in the 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, told PTI when asked about his preferred choice.
‘Axar brings his superior batting to the table’
But the ‘Turbanator’ wanted 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 the equation. So for me, ideally, Kuldeep should play,” he reasoned.
Axar has garnered 50 wickets in 12 Tests, with 27 of those wickets coming in his first three Tests against England in 2021, and the remaining 23 in nine subsequent games. Notably, in a home series against Australia, he managed only three wickets in four Test matches, going wicketless in two of those games in Delhi and Indore.
The upcoming five Tests in Hyderabad, Visakhapatnam, Rajkot, Ranchi, and Dharamshala present different challenges. While the last game is on a traditionally pacer-friendly track that has turned into a batting belter, the other four venues are expected to provide significant assistance for spinners like Ashwin and Jadeja.
Axar’s strength on rank turners lies in his ability to land deliveries on the spot, allowing the pitch to do the rest. He employs under-cutters on crumbling surfaces, causing the ball to skid after landing, making it challenging for batters from SENA countries to predict whether to go on the front foot or back foot.
However, on better tracks, Axar has been perceived as lacking variations in his bowling 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 the end of the South Africa series, skipper Rohit reacting to variable bounce and pace on offer in Cape Town had made it clear that no one should complain if the ball turns from the very first session.
‘Axar is fantastic at target hitting’
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 bowling. On turners, you need a “target shooter”. One who would just keep on bowling wicket to wicket, hitting more or less the 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.
(With PTI inputs)