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India's new spin trio should stay

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Yuzvendra_Chahal_Kuldeep_Yadav_Axar_Patel_India_Cricket_spin44 wickets in 7 Test matches at 22.40
44 wickets in 8 Test matches at 26.95

These are the numbers of Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin in 2017. The two have tormented visitors with their impeccable lines, sharp turn and deceptive variations. Teams ranging from South Africa to England to Australia have arrived, lost and departed in the past two years.

However, when the Champions Trophy started, Jadeja and Ashwin were found wanting with batsmen profiting off them with utmost ease.

8 wickets in 10 ODIs at 60.12
8 wickets in 9 ODIs at 53.75

These are the duo's numbers in ODI cricket this year. They have been far below their best in the shorter formats of the game and perhaps the time has come for India to unleash them only in Tests.

Ashwin and Jadeja were ‘rested’ for the Sri Lankan ODIs with India taking Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal and Axar Patel to the Island Nation for the ODIs and T20s.

The move turned out to be a roaring success, although it can be said that the hapless Lankan batsmen played a major role in boosting their numbers.

Axar finished with 6 wickets in 4 games, maintained a better economy rate than Jadeja and was a wicket-taking threat every time he came on to bowl.

Yuzvendra Chahal had 5 wickets in 4 games and, as a wrist spinner, enjoyed the backing of his captain who used him as a wicket-taking option.

Kuldeep had 3 in 2 ODIs but looked good enough to take a wicket with most balls. The chinaman bowler was perhaps the most threatening of the three and should ideally be handed over the onus of the spin department in shorter formats.

Together, the three picked up 19 wickets in the 5 ODIs and one T20. They looked much more penetrating and threatening than Ashwin and Jadeja had ever looked in the past few years in limited-overs cricket.

 

Jadeja and Axar Patel are rather similar cricketers and India surely cannot accommodate both of them in a playing XI. This means it is likely that only one of the two would make it to the World Cup in 2019. Going by sheer numbers, Axar has the edge at the moment.

 

In 31 matches, Patel boasts 38 wickets at 28.71. Jadeja, meanwhile, has 155 in 136 matches at 35.88. There is little to separate in this although Jadeja’s average is quite high. Axar’s economy rate of 4.35 is also commendable compared to Jadeja’s 4.90. The King's XI Punjab spinner also has a better strike rate - 39.63 against Jadeja's 43.91.

Even when analysing their List a statistics, Axar edges ahead of Jadeja. Axar has 115 wickets in 87 matches at 27.89 with an economy of 4.31. Jadeja, on the other hand, has 216 wickets in 181 matches at 32.56 and an economy of 4.72.

With Jadeja’s batting abilities on the wane, Axar also provides an able batting option, having wielded the willow quite well for Kings XI Punjab in the last season of the IPL.

 

Chahal and Kuldeep vs Ashwin is a tricky one. The wily off-spinner has established himself as one of India's premier spin bowlers, especially in Test cricket. He has enough variations up his sleeve to thrive in limited-overs cricket but has somehow not lived up to his Test reputation in the shorter formats.

 

Chahal and Kuldeep, meanwhile, belong to a select class of wrist spinners who are in high demand in International cricket at the moment. Kuldeep in particular is a chinaman bowler, the first for India, and has impressed for the Kolkata Knight Riders in the IPL.

Chahal has been no less impressive, earning himself quite a reputation with his exploits for Royal Challengers Bangalore. He lived up to it when he scythed through the England line-up in February to finish with 6/25 in a T20 match in Bengaluru. It turned out to be the best figures by an Indian in T20Is and since then Chahal has been a regular fixture in the shortest format.

But dropping Ashwin may not be that easy, given his sheer reputation. His county stint with Worcestershire will also help improve his skills on greener tracks, albeit with the red ball. If he can get a hang of things in such conditions, the door isn't completely closed on Ashwin yet.

But for now, India should stick by their new-found triumvirate. Axar offers the kind of consistency in line and economy that India sought from Jadeja. Chahal and Kuldeep are wicket-taking options and playing them together may not be feasible too often, although it did happen during the Sri Lankan series.

However, when India go abroad, only two of these three are likely to make it to the squad, which means that Kuldeep and Chahal might well be playing for one spot in the side. Axar is by no means secure yet, but he can be given a longer rope considering the fact that Jadeja got an enormous number of games to establish himself in the team.

The time is ripe for a change and India’s secret to limited-overs success with the ball could reside in this spin triumvirate who are quickly making a name for themselves on the big stage.

 

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