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India’s band of all-rounders who bowl slow left-arm

Updated on Jul 27, 2022 10:33 PM IST

Yuvraj Singh’s success as a left-handed all-rounder gave India Ravindra Jadeja, and now Axar Patel and Krunal Pandya are solid alternatives

PREMIUM
In Jadeja, Patel and Krunal, India have an impressive line-up of all-rounders.(AP)

Two marquee games possibly did more harm to Ravichandran Ashwin’s white-ball prospects than the rest of his 164-match career. The 2016 T20 World Cup semi-final in which he leaked 20 in two overs and the 2017 Champions Trophy final in which he conceded 70 in 10 overs. Bad days happen even to the best in the game. And Ashwin at that point was the world’s best off-spinner. But since then, Ashwin has played only 11 white-ball matches, including seven since last November.

A few factors contributed to that marked shift in approach. With Jasprit Bumrah emerging and Mohammed Shami becoming fit for all formats since 2018, India were becoming more pace-oriented. And with Yuzvendra Chahal consistently playing as the main spinner—barring the 2021 T20 World Cup when India chose Varun Chakaravarthy over him—there was essentially one slot left, for either a specialist bowler or two all-rounders to split the responsibility. Hardik Pandya is the frontrunner as the fast-bowling all-rounder. The spin all-rounder, by unanimous choice, has been Ravindra Jadeja.

Lower-order salvager, disciplined second change bowler and fielder extraordinaire, Jadeja is all that rolled into an all-format performer. He isn’t exceptional in one aspect of the game but Jadeja keeps contributing in every possible way. What India have also done is carve a template keeping Jadeja, and ready replacements, in mind. Enter Axar Patel and Krunal Pandya and India are sorted in any match, in any format.

It isn’t as if right-arm spinners don’t make good all-rounders. Mohammad Hafeez found second wind in his career purely based on batting. An all-time Test great, Ashwin though has always been rated as a specialist despite his recent IPL exploits. Washington Sundar just doesn’t have the batting average. But in Jadeja, Patel and Krunal, India have an impressive line-up of all-rounders.

Slow left-arm bowlers have the advantage of taking the ball away from the right-handed batter while an off-spinner must use more variations to check the scoring as their stock ball comes in. Not only is it ideal for the batter trying to find his hitting arc but he can also negate the risk of getting stumped. This holds true for left-handed batters facing left-arm spinners as well, but there aren’t enough of them. And since wickets and averages are not as much in vogue in white-ball cricket as economy, Jadeja, Patel and Krunal have the upper hand, as long as they plug the runs and score runs.

That last bit assumes importance with India’s top-order not firing in unison. That makes the selection of players with skill sets that cover multiple bases vital. That the strategy is working is evident from the averages as well, Jadeja being head and shoulders above other spinners when it comes to scoring in ODIs and T20Is in the last few years. It’s an extension of the bits-and-pieces player strategy India had adopted with Yuvraj Singh in the mid-2000s. A phenomenal fielder, Singh was not only half the reason (Mohammed Kaif being the other half) for India starting their transition to a top fielding side, he also provided much-needed balance by bowling a few overs in ODIs.

His left-arm spin appeared innocuous at first but with time his variations, of pace and angles, forced teams to make plans to negate him. Every captain had some sort of left-arm spin backup. Sourav Ganguly had Singh before Jadeja arrived with an added sheen of three Ranji triple centuries that neither MS Dhoni nor Virat Kohli could overlook. Jadeja may not bat as high or as fluently as Singh. But he is also an electric fielder. The bowling has been more than helpful at times, Jadeja topping the tally with 12 wickets at the 2013 Champions Trophy which India won or at the otherwise disappointing 2021 T20 World Cup when he was India’s joint-best bowler (Bumrah was the other) riding an economy of 5.94.

And it was Jadeja the batter who kept India’s hopes alive in the 2019 World Cup semi-final defeat to New Zealand. Jadeja largely vindicating the trust reposed in him has also helped India show faith in others with similar skills.

Two marquee games possibly did more harm to Ravichandran Ashwin’s white-ball prospects than the rest of his 164-match career. The 2016 T20 World Cup semi-final in which he leaked 20 in two overs and the 2017 Champions Trophy final in which he conceded 70 in 10 overs. Bad days happen even to the best in the game. And Ashwin at that point was the world’s best off-spinner. But since then, Ashwin has played only 11 white-ball matches, including seven since last November.

A few factors contributed to that marked shift in approach. With Jasprit Bumrah emerging and Mohammed Shami becoming fit for all formats since 2018, India were becoming more pace-oriented. And with Yuzvendra Chahal consistently playing as the main spinner—barring the 2021 T20 World Cup when India chose Varun Chakaravarthy over him—there was essentially one slot left, for either a specialist bowler or two all-rounders to split the responsibility. Hardik Pandya is the frontrunner as the fast-bowling all-rounder. The spin all-rounder, by unanimous choice, has been Ravindra Jadeja.

Lower-order salvager, disciplined second change bowler and fielder extraordinaire, Jadeja is all that rolled into an all-format performer. He isn’t exceptional in one aspect of the game but Jadeja keeps contributing in every possible way. What India have also done is carve a template keeping Jadeja, and ready replacements, in mind. Enter Axar Patel and Krunal Pandya and India are sorted in any match, in any format.

It isn’t as if right-arm spinners don’t make good all-rounders. Mohammad Hafeez found second wind in his career purely based on batting. An all-time Test great, Ashwin though has always been rated as a specialist despite his recent IPL exploits. Washington Sundar just doesn’t have the batting average. But in Jadeja, Patel and Krunal, India have an impressive line-up of all-rounders.

Slow left-arm bowlers have the advantage of taking the ball away from the right-handed batter while an off-spinner must use more variations to check the scoring as their stock ball comes in. Not only is it ideal for the batter trying to find his hitting arc but he can also negate the risk of getting stumped. This holds true for left-handed batters facing left-arm spinners as well, but there aren’t enough of them. And since wickets and averages are not as much in vogue in white-ball cricket as economy, Jadeja, Patel and Krunal have the upper hand, as long as they plug the runs and score runs.

That last bit assumes importance with India’s top-order not firing in unison. That makes the selection of players with skill sets that cover multiple bases vital. That the strategy is working is evident from the averages as well, Jadeja being head and shoulders above other spinners when it comes to scoring in ODIs and T20Is in the last few years. It’s an extension of the bits-and-pieces player strategy India had adopted with Yuvraj Singh in the mid-2000s. A phenomenal fielder, Singh was not only half the reason (Mohammed Kaif being the other half) for India starting their transition to a top fielding side, he also provided much-needed balance by bowling a few overs in ODIs.

His left-arm spin appeared innocuous at first but with time his variations, of pace and angles, forced teams to make plans to negate him. Every captain had some sort of left-arm spin backup. Sourav Ganguly had Singh before Jadeja arrived with an added sheen of three Ranji triple centuries that neither MS Dhoni nor Virat Kohli could overlook. Jadeja may not bat as high or as fluently as Singh. But he is also an electric fielder. The bowling has been more than helpful at times, Jadeja topping the tally with 12 wickets at the 2013 Champions Trophy which India won or at the otherwise disappointing 2021 T20 World Cup when he was India’s joint-best bowler (Bumrah was the other) riding an economy of 5.94.

And it was Jadeja the batter who kept India’s hopes alive in the 2019 World Cup semi-final defeat to New Zealand. Jadeja largely vindicating the trust reposed in him has also helped India show faith in others with similar skills.

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