In December 2016, when England last travelled to India for a Test series, Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin combined to capture 54 of the 93 English wickets to fall as the team romped to a 4-0 series win in the five-Test series.
This time, though, Jadeja’s absence from the first two Tests due to a thumb fracture will mean India will have to pair either one, or two, of Kuldeep Yadav, Washington Sundar, and Axar Patel with Ashwin against the visiting England side.
Jadeja, a left-arm spinner, has taken 157 of his 220 wickets in India. He has bagged seven of his nine five-wicket hauls at home. The Saurashtra spinner’s ability to pick wickets with variations in pace and accuracy has made him successful on Indian pitches on which there is turn right from the first day of matches.
But his unavailability in the first two Tests will put the responsibility on India’s reserve bench that has very little Test experience.
India have picked off-spinner Washington Sundar (one Test), left-arm spinner Axar Patel (no Test) and chinaman Kuldeep Yadav (six Tests) along with veteran off-spinner Ashwin for the first two Tests.
The combined Test experience of the three spinners — excluding Ashwin — is just seven Tests.
With Virat Kohli’s playing XI likely to include five specialist bowlers for the first Test in Chennai, which begins on February 5, there is a possibility that India might field two pace bowlers and three spinners, including Sundar.
Sundar provides an all-round option and performed well with both bat and ball in his debut Test in Brisbane earlier this month.
The team management had also hinted that it would play Yadav in the home series, with both skipper Ajinkya Rahane and bowling coach Bharat Arun saying that the wrist spinner, who did not get a chance in Australia, has been working hard at the nets. Both said that his time would come in India during the series against England.
The chinaman bowler has not played a Test for over two years now and in the last first-class game he played in Sydney against Australia A, he went wicket-less in 16 overs.
But if Yadav gets a look-in along with Sundar and Ashwin — the MA Chidambaram Stadium is the home ground of latter two — India will have to leave out Patel.
India also have left-arm spinner Shahbaz Nadeem and leg-spinner Rahul Chahar among reserves. Nadeem, 31, has played just one Test, against South Africa in 2019 while Chahar has played one T20I.