Kuldeep Yadav India England Tests 2018
has ticked every possible box during India’s tour of the UK © IANS (file photo)

As far as proving a point goes, Kuldeep Yadav has ticked every possible box during India’s tour of Ireland and England. In 44.3 overs on the tour of the UK, he has claimed 21 wickets an an average of 11.57 and strike-rate of 12.7. Kuldeep’s form could prove irresistible when India’s selectors sit down in Leeds today to pick the squad for the five-Test series starting in two weeks.

There is also the matter of naming a reserve wicketkeeper, and the man primed to fit that role is the outrageously talented Rishabh Pant, uncapped in Tests yet making a strong claim for inclusion with his attractive brand of batting. With Jasprit Bumrah also sidelined with injury, the selectors will need to name a replacement fast bowler.

Kuldeep has not gotten a Test since last August in Sri Lanka, when he took five wickets in an innings victory that gave India the series 3-0. His numbers stand at nine wickets from two Tests, at a strike-rate of 38.6 and average of 20.77. But that is almost irrelevant today. The key stats are that in two matches against England, Kuldeep flummoxed their batsmen: the first T20I at Old Trafford and the first ODI at Trent Bridge, where he took 5 for 24 and 6 for 25 respectively.

These returns, coming after Kuldeep took 17 wickets during India’s 5-1 ODI series win in South Africa earlier this year, underline his credentials as an international spinner.

In the deciding Test against Australia in Dharamsala last year, Kuldeep proved an inspired pick and surprised Australia with his Chinaman deliveries to the tune of a match-turning 4 for 68 on Day One. His control and ability to hurry batsmen with the wrong ‘un was excellent — in particular, the deliveries to bowl Peter Handscomb and Glenn Maxwell on Day One — and led to speculation as to why India to did not pick him earlier in the series.

Most tempting is Kuldeep’s variety and control. This series starts in the first week of August and runs into the second week of September, which is when the English domestic season concludes. Surfaces are expected to be drier, which means slower. Having a wrist-spinner of Kuldeep’s quality could prove hugely beneficial.

The question is: do the selectors drop one of Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin to accommodate Kuldeep, or pick him as the third spinner? A three-pronged spin attack is an unlikely scenario, but given Kuldeep’s impact against England and the very public backing he has received from Virat Kohli, his inclusion for the first Test appears very likely.

Ashwin has been India’s most successful bowler in Tests for the last two years, playing a key role in subcontinental series wins over England, Australia, New Zealand, Sri Lanka and West Indies, with Jadeja almost equally as penetrative with his left-arm spin. Ashwin was India’s most successful bowler in 2017, during which he became the fastest to 300 Test wickets and in the fewest matches (54) and deliveries (15,636) to the landmark.

Jadeja was India’s second-highest wicket-taker in Tests last year with 54 from 10 matches with a better average, strike rate and economy than Ashwin, and was twice Man of the Match for his role in series-clinching wins over Australia and Sri Lanka. In August, he became the No. 1 all-rounder in Test cricket and also went past 150 wickets in 32 Tests, the second-fastest to the landmark and the fastest left-arm spinner.

However, neither has had an impact in prior Tests played in England. In 2 Tests in 2014, Ashwin took wickets at an average of 33.66 while striking every 71 deliveries. Jadeja played 4 of 5 Tests during that same tour, managing 9 wickets at 46.66 and with a strike-rate of 104. It would be a bold move to drop your two most successful Indian spinners, even more so given the batting options Ashwin and Jadeja provide, but as Kohli said during the ODI series “there might be a few surprises in there”.

Rishabh Pant India England Tests
Rishabh Pant has batted brilliantly and kept wickets tidily on India A’s tour of England © IANS (file photo)

Now to the wicketkeeper’s spot. Saha’s participation in the first half of the series appears unlikely, given that he needs more recovery time to nurse his injured left thumb. Dinesh Karthik is in England with the ODI side, and given his sudden promotion into India’s playing XI for the decider on Tuesday, at KL Rahul’s expense, indications are strong that he will continue to keep wicket. He did the job in Saha’s absence during the two-day shellacking of debutants Afghanistan in June.

Which brings us to Pant, currently part of the India A team in England. The 20-year-old has delivered on tour, chiefly in the tri-series final that India A won, and then with a counterattacking 67* off 71 balls to help script an eye-catching comeback win against West Indies A in a four-day match. Pant’s keeping has been tidy (he has 15 dismissals on tour) and at the time of publishing he is 37* off 54 balls overnight for India A against England Lions. The selectors will no doubt seek the inputs of India A coach Rahul Dravid, and how he speaks of Pant could tip the scales in the rookie’s favour.

The rest of India’s squad should resemble the one that toured South Africa in January, with the exception of the injured Jasprit Bumrah and Karun Nair in place of Rohit Sharma. With Mohammed Shami having cleared the mandatory yo-yo test, he should slot back into a pace-bowling pool comprising Ishant Sharma, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Umesh Yadav and Hardik Pandya.

The series starts August 1 at Edgbaston, followed by Tests at Lord’s from August 9, at Trent Bridge from August 19, at Southampton from August 30 and lastly at The Oval from September 7.