India's wristspinners Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal could both find a place in the Test squad, according to Virat Kohli, following their success in the limited-overs games against England. India are set to pick their team for the five-Test series in England in the next few days.
"There might be a few surprises in there," Kohli told Sky Sports after India won the first ODI at Trent Bridge, when asked by Mike Atherton whether Kuldeep had done enough to play the Tests. "Anything is possible because we still have a few days to pick the Test side. Yeah, look, he is making a strong case for himself. So is Chahal. Both of them together are pretty lethal for us. Looking at the English batsmen struggling against them we might be tempted to do that."
Kuldeep's case is particularly compelling, having taken a five-for in the T20I series and a six-for in the first ODI, on his maiden tour of England. He has played two Tests so far and taken nine wickets at an average of 20.77. Chahal has only featured in limited-overs cricket for India and has played 27 first-class matches for Haryana. He has 70 wickets at an average of 33.90 with two five-fors.
The fingerspinners R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja have been India's regular spinners in Test cricket in recent years, but they have lost their place in the limited-overs teams and now face a challenge from the two wristspinners. Although the BCCI has not revealed a date for the Test selection, it is understood the squad will be picked in the next few days. MSK Prasad, the chief selector, joined the Indian squad in Nottingham this week and it's likely the Indian think-tank will consult the India A coach Rahul Dravid before the squad is announced. Dravid is currently with India A, who are playing West Indies A in the UK.
India have so far lost just one match on this tour, which began with two T20Is in Ireland. Before leaving India, Kohli had said his wristspinners would be his primary weapon, especially in the middle overs of ODIs.
"When given more overs and more time they become even more lethal when guys are not going hard against them for 4 overs," Kohli had said. "When they have 10 overs and they have something to play with to come back into the game, they know they have the skill to make an impact."
Kohli summed up the victory in Nottingham as "clinical" and gave credit to Kuldeep, whose 6 for 25 were the best figures for a left-arm wristspinner in ODIs. "Tonight Kuldeep was outstanding. To give away 25 runs on that sort of a pitch and picking up 6 wickets in the first innings with two hard balls was an outstanding spell," Kohli said. "I don't think I have seen a better ODI spell for a while."
But why had Kuldeep been dropped for the Bristol T20I? Kohli said that was a "tactical" decision keeping in mind the breeze blowing towards the shorter boundary. "We want him confident because we know he can be a matchwinner. And T20 cricket is such a short game that anyone can make an impact and win you games, but when it comes to longer games we need players who can really make an impact, because in 50-overs cricket if you don't get wickets in the middle overs it is going to be really difficult."
Kuldeep and Chahal had already proved their worth in South Africa, where India won the ODI series 5-1 - 28 of the 33 wickets they had taken there had come in the middle overs. So far in England, Kuldeep has 18 wickets from 24.3 overs at an economy rate of 4.89 and an average of 6.66. Chahal has got 8 wickets from 30 overs at an economy rate of 6.73 and an average of 25.25.
There is also a stark difference in the impact Kuldeep has made in the middle overs against England, who have played Chahal more confidently. Kuldeep has given just 59 runs off 69 balls at an economy rate of 5.13, while Chahal has gone for 132 runs off 198 balls at an economy rate of 7.33.
"These two remain a strength for us in the middle overs," Kohli said. "We got to make sure we keep them strong, keep them confident and put in these kind of performances regularly. These two guys since they have come into the team they have been the difference for us. They remain a huge weapon for us."