Axar, who recently turned 30, claimed 27 scalps in three Tests during England’s previous visit to India in 2021. However, he hasn’t done much with the ball since, although his batting has improved by leaps and bounds. Kuldeep, on the other hand, has been in and out of the team despite some impressive performances.
Off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin and all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja are set to be the first choice spinners in the Indian playing XI for the England series. As for the third spinner, Harbhajan was quoted as telling PTI, "Look, the way I look at it that when both (Ravichandran) Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja are in playing eleven and you are looking at a third specialist spinner, it should be Kuldeep.
"Because Kuldeep as a wrist spinner will bring that variation. But I believe Axar's selection in Test matches is purely on his batting skills. At No 8 or 9, he can bat and that's what he brings to the table,” he added.
The Turbanator, however, questioned the logic of having someone in the team because he can bat at No. 8 or 9. According to him, Axar and Jadeja have similar skills and that takes the variation aspect of Kuldeep out of the picture.
"While Axar brings his superior batting to the table (compared to Kuldeep), I don't see a logic why you need a superior batter at No. 9 when his skill-sets are completely identical with that of Jadeja's. You are then taking the aspect of variation out of equation. So for me, ideally, Kuldeep should play,” he said.
Against Australia, Axar only claimed three wickets in four Tests, but made a huge impact with his batting. However, on pitches that crumble, he can prove to be a major asset as he can get the ball to skid.
"If you look at our batting performances on rank turners, you would know that we haven't also done very well. Our batting also could struggle if there is excessive turn and hence you then want a longer tail and that's where Axar comes into effect with his batting,” Harbhajan agreed.
"Now coming to the bowling. On turners, you need a 'target shooter'. One who would just keep on bowling wicket to wicket, hitting more or less same length over after over. On turners, you won't need to turn or show variations to get wickets. When it comes to that discipline, Axar is fantastic at target hitting and hence he remains favourite," the former cricketer added while speaking about India’s spinners.
While Axar has claimed 50 wickets from 12 Tests at an average of 17.16, Kuldeep has 34 scalps from eight Tests at an average of 21.55.
--By A Cricket Correspondent