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Spin Dilemma: Can India Maintain Dominance at Home Without spin duo of Ashwin-Jadeja?

Spin Dilemma: Can India Maintain Dominance at Home Without spin duo of Ashwin-Jadeja? Upcoming spinners in India post Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja.

Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja took 427 wickets among them from 2013-2022 period _ Walking Wicket (Images_ ©X/Twitter)
Ravichandran Ashwin & Ravindra Jadeja took 699 wickets among them so far (Images: ©X/Twitter)

India faces a potential spin conundrum as the inevitable retirements of Test cricket stalwarts Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin loom. While finding successors for Jadeja seems more straightforward, the scarcity of quality right-arm off-spinners in the domestic circuit poses a significant challenge for India’s spin department and it could hurt India shortly.

Over the last decade, Ashwin and Jadeja’s contribution to India’s formidable subcontinent record has been extraordinary, losing only two out of 52 games at home since 2012. But now, Ashwin is 37, and Jadeja is 35, and the team management would be eyeing to find some quality and like-to-like replacements. It’s doubtful that they will be around for more than one World Test Championship (WTC) cycle. The pressing question arises: Are India prepared for life without their dynamic spin duo?

Ind vs NZ - 1st Test, Day 3, Kanpur - Axar Patel's fifer, Ashwin's 3-fer reduce New Zealand to 296; India 63 ahead (Images: ©BCCI/Twitter)
Axar Patel is a like to like replacement of Ravindra Jadeja (Images: ©BCCI/Twitter)

Axar Patel: Ravindra Jadeja’s worthy successor? 

In Jadeja’s case, the answer is yes. There is Axar Patel, who has proved his mettle at the highest level but hasn’t played any game outside India yet. At the same time, there are a few names with similar skill set at the domestic level such as Saurabh Kumar, Shams Mulani, R Sai Kishore, Kumar Kartikeya, Shahbaz Ahmed, Abid Mushtaq, and Manav Suthar. 

However, things get worse when you start identifying a quality off-spinner. To be fair, India currently doesn’t have a single ready-to-go replacement for Ashwin. Yes, there are Jalaj Saxena, K Gowtham, Jayant Yadav and Akshay Wakhare. They have excelled in domestic cricket, producing exceptional numbers, but all of them are above 33, raising concern for long-term viability. Washington Sundar, who has been impressive with the bat, didn’t look threatening with the ball, in all four Tests he played at the international level. Meanwhile, young rising stars such as Saransh Jain, Pulkit Narang and Tanush Kotian lack experience for India A yet.

Among all the left-arm spinners India have in their arsenal, the 29-year-old Axar will be the frontrunner for the No. 6/7 spot once Jadeja hangs up his boots. Uttar Pradesh’s Saurabh Kumar, who received a call-up for a Test series against Sri Lanka last year, has been one of the leading wicket-takers in the last two-three years in domestic cricket and also has outstanding numbers for India A, taking 28 wickets in six games at an average of 21.5. 

Saurabh is no mug with the bat either, averaging 27.05 in first-class cricket. However, Mumbai’s 26-year-old Shams Mulani boasts both, batting and bowling consistently in the Ranji Trophy. He averages 37.96 with the bat and has claimed 117 wickets in 37 innings at an average of 22.7. In red-ball cricket since 2020, Ashwin is the only Indian bowler to take more wickets than Mulani.

Shahbaz Ahmed is one more option India can explore. His batting has improved even more since 2022, with him averaging 50 in 15 first-class encounters. These are some of the serious contenders, but there are many more options available in the domestic circuit.

One more potential solution is Manav Suthar, who is part of the India A squad for the emerging Asia Cup 2023. He is another name you will be hearing a lot about in the future. 

Ranji Trophy 2022-23_ Jalaj Saxena took 11-102 against services and help Kerala win_ Walking Wicket (Images_ ©BCCI_Twitter)
Jalaj Saxena has more than 413 wickets in First Class (Images: ©BCCI/Twitter)

Who is India’s next off-spinner?

Let’s discuss the real problem: who is India’s next off-spinner? Jalaj Saxena, Parvez Rasool and Krishnappa Gowtham have been the most successful off-spinners in first-class cricket since 2020, while Jayant Yadav and Wakhare have also produced decent numbers, but none of them are for the future as the age is going against them. 

The selectors would be closely monitoring the services of Pulkit Narang and Madhya Pradesh’s Saransh. The latter made his FC debut in 2014 but has only become a consistent member in the last two years. The 30-year-old has 55 wickets at an average of 24 in this period, while Narang has 61 at an average of 24.6. There’s not much to pick from, but the problem remains the same. The concern persists if Ashwin prolongs his career for another two years.

However, If India opts for a strategic change they can go with someone like Washington or Kotian in the top seven. Playing another wrist-spinner would provide variety and depth in the batting lineup, especially in home conditions. Kotian has only featured in 16 first-class games for Mumbai, averaging 43.33 with the bat and 32.32 with the ball. But again he is yet to play enough to get into the India A set-up. Hence, the obvious pick, as of now, would be Washington, who averages 66.25 in six innings, studded with three fifties including his heroic innings on the bouncy surface of Brisbane, Australia. 

Kuldeep Yadav would still be India’s first pick if the selectors go around looking for a wrist spinner. The latter played a lot of red-ball cricket in 2018 and 2019 and even played five games for India A. 

While time remains before Ashwin and Jadeja bid farewell to Test cricket, management must diligently prepare replacements, especially for the irreplaceable spin-wizard Ashwin. India have a dominating record at home, but it will be hard to sustain if they fail to find the right replacement for him.

(All stats used in this article are applicable till July 10, 2023)


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