Ahead of the second Test in Colombo, coach Ravi Shastri discussed India’s rich bench strength. “We are happy to have a number of options available. It is a good headache and it helps to have healthy competition for places,” he had said.
By that same measure, Virat Kohli will get to test his squad’s depth in the third Test at Pallekele starting on Saturday.
Thanks to Ravindra Jadeja’s one-match suspension, the Indian skipper will have to pick an alternate spinner to pair up with R Ashwin. At the time of writing, left-arm spinner (who can also bat a bit) Axar Patel had been drafted into the squad.
He will arrive on Thursday and will be available for selection, a like-for-like replacement (if only on paper) to the No1 Test bowler and all-rounder.
The other option is picking left-arm leg-spinner Kuldeep Yadav.
Usually, India have a firm selection policy – those in-waiting within the squad are picked ahead of any fringe players coming in. While Patel is yet to make his Test debut, Yadav has played one match – in Dharamsala, against Australia, where he took 4-68 in the first innings of the series’ decider.
“It isn’t clear as there are still three days remaining,” said Yadav.
If you look at the lush-green square at the Pallekele International Stadium, you would simply assume neither gets a chance. But three days is a long time in cricket, especially when the home team is fairing so poorly against a far superior, No1 ranked opposition. That grass should vanish, like it did at the SSC on the morning of the second Test. And if so, Yadav will only be too eager to play.
“I am excited because playing in Sri Lanka will be the result of my hard work. If you are in the same Test team as the No1 and No2 bowlers in Test cricket, you will have to wait your chance,” he said.
His words have a matter-of-fact mannerism about them. New to the rigours of international cricket, which includes handling googlies from the media, Yadav is from the Virender Sehwag school of banter – he plays them with a straight bat, or often, hits them out of the park.
“In my childhood days, I have played on cement wickets. They are tougher than grassy wickets to bowl on. So, I never look at what the pitch is like. I just try to bowl in the right areas and get as many wickets as possible,” he quipped.
Like any other member of the squad, Yadav is simply making a case for himself to be included in the next playing 11. Of course, captain Kohli is no stranger to his prowess. When he awed in that fourth Test against Australia, the skipper was at a loss for words at the instantaneous impact made by the youngster in a series-deciding game.
“Inspired selection and performance” is how Kohli had deemed it then.
Then, of course there is the recent ODI tour to the Caribbean. After the heartbreaking loss in the Champions Trophy final, it was an obvious conclusion in Indian cricket circles that Ashwin-Jadeja might not be the best fit in the same ODI line-up. Result – in the next series against the West Indies, Yadav played all five matches while Ashwin and Jadeja split their appearances.
Unlike Patel, who has an irregular presence even in the limited-overs’ set-up, there is a familiarity about the left-arm leg-spinner already. Clearly, management is aware of what Yadav brings to the table – an unpredictability given his action and style of bowling, the chance to take wickets as few batsmen can conformably comprehend a ‘chinaman’ bowler, and most of all, chutzpah.
The spunky youngster is ever ready to get into a duel, regardless of who is at the crease. It is, after all, how spinners get their wickets.
“During my debut Test I didn’t care who I was playing against, Australia or somebody else. For me that was an unforgettable moment, because ever since childhood, I have only wanted to play Test cricket and make my family proud. I don’t think any other moment can top it. Everyone was watching me. I knew it was my moment to impress,” Yadav said.
Impress he did, for until that point in time, Jayant Yadav was the designated third-choice spinner. On this tour, the first Test series after a long 2016-17 home season, his name-sake has overtaken him in the pecking order. Sure, he is still only third behind Ashwin and Jadeja.
But with the latter missing, there is certain air of confidence that this second-spinner slot belongs to him, even if temporarily.
“I couldn’t sleep the night before my Test debut. I was excited, but more than that I was nervous, about performing and playing for India. I am not sleepless anymore,” Yadav signed off.