Despite India bowling coach Bharat Arun said that spinner Kuldeep Yadav would be getting an opportunity in the home Tests against England, India called up left-arm spinner Shahbaz Nadeem from the reserves to replace Axar Patel for the first Test here on Friday.
Kuldeep, a Chinaman bowler, was benched in all four Tests in Australia and has not played a Test for over two years since taking a five-wicket haul in the fourth and final Test against host Australia in Sydney in 2018-19.
“In India when we play these four Tests, it will be his time,” Arun had said on arrival from Australia.
India skipper Virat Kohli said on the eve of the first Test that Kuldeep not playing Tests for over two years was partly because there was no cricket during the Covid-enforced lockdown. He also said that Kuldeep’s chance would come.
“You can count two years but in 2020 we played no cricket for so long. So it is not that long a gap. New Zealand conditions was not suited to playing three spinners, something that he understood as an individual. But now that the home season starts, he will be in the scheme of things,” Kohli had said on Thursday.
One explanation for Kuldeep not getting preferred is that India was looking to replace left-arm spin all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja who is out injured with a fractured thumb.
The first choice, as Kohli said on Thursday, was Axar Patel. Patel could bowl left-arm orthodox spin like Jadeja and could bat as well.
“The reason was to have someone similar to Jadeja’s skill-set or what they provide to the team which Axar brings in all three departments,” said Kohli in response to a question on why Patel was preferred in the squad ahead of Nadeem, who was in the reserves.
However, as luck would have it, Patel was ruled out of the first Test and Nadeem, being a left-arm orthodox like him and Jadeja, was drafted in the XI.
It meant that Kuldeep had to warm the bench once again. The 26-year-old player from Kanpur, who has taken 24 wickets in six Tests, will have to bide his time.
There is a possibility that Nadeem, if he doesn’t do well in this Test, could be replaced by Patel in the next Test if the Gujarat bowler regains fitness in time for the second Test, which will also be played here from February 13. And from the third Test onwards, India could bring Jadeja if the all-rounder is fit.
Kohli said that Kuldeep’s fitness was an issue and also spoke about the challenge of keeping Kuldeep motivated.
“To keep guys motivated, you need to give them goals. There is something or other to work towards when you are part of the Indian cricket team… Kuldeep is someone who has a lot of skills. He understands there were areas he had to work on which he has worked on beautifully in Australia. He seems fitter. I see his bowling much more improved than it was before. He is adding to his skill-set,” he had said referring to Kuldeep.
Kuldeep had recently told ESPNCricinfo.com that he was looking to play the first Test to build confidence.
“When you play regular cricket, the confidence comes automatically. If I play the first match, I will be in a better position to play the next game. Mentally I have kept myself very relaxed. Accordingly, my confidence level will be peaking,” Kuldeep had said.a