Axar Patel is back in India’s squad for the second Test against Sri Lanka, which is set to begin on March 12 in Bengaluru. The left-arm orthodox spinner has replaced the left-arm wristspinner Kuldeep Yadav, who has been released from the squad.
Axar was unavailable for the first Test in Mohali – which India won by an innings, wrapping up the match inside three days – with ESPNcricinfo learning he was recovering from a shin injury as well as a recent bout of Covid-19. The BCCI’s release announcing the squad for the first Test had mentioned that Axar’s fitness would be “assessed later to ascertain his selection for the second Test”.
Kuldeep did not feature in the first Test, with India preferring Jayant Yadav as their third spinner. Jayant went wicketless in both innings, while his spin partners R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja dominated the match with a combined 15 wickets.
Axar is likely to slot straight into the XI in Jayant’s place if India persist with a three-spinner attack, given his outstanding record over his first five Tests, in which he has picked up 36 wickets at an average of 11.86. The fact that the Bengaluru match is a day-night Test involving the pink SG ball will strengthen Axar’s case for selection; in India’s last day-night Test in Ahmedabad last year, he picked up match figures of 11 for 70 to help blow England away in just two days and pick up the Player-of-the-Match award.
Kuldeep has slid down the pecking order of India’s red-ball spinners over the last three years, playing just the one Test since picking up a five-wicket haul in the New Year’s Test of 2019 in Sydney. One reason for this has been a preference for spin-bowling allrounders such as Axar, Jayant and Washington Sundar, who have contributed to India boasting formidable batting depth in home Tests.