Ahead of the first ODI against Australia in Perth on Tuesday, the big question in the Indian team management's mind is, who will partner Ravichandran Ashwin in the spin department? (India vs Australia: Yuvraj Singh, Ravindra Jadeja Stage Comeback for Limited-Overs Series)
The Indian selectors have included two left-arm orthodox spinners in Ravindra Jadeja and Axar Patel. Both can also contribute with the bat and the team management would be scratching their head to decide on the team composition ahead of the WACA ODI.
In the two warm-up games against Western Australia XI, both Jadeja and Axar put in a decent show. That has only served to ensure India are spoilt for options heading into the match. (Why Team India Should Test Their Bench Strength Against Australia)
Axar, who made his debut in the ODI series against Bangladesh in June 2014, picked up 1/59 from his 10 overs. Following that, Axar put in a good show against West Indies in Dharamsala in October 2014 where he picked up 2/26 .
Skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni said after the performance, "First time I've seen him (Axar) bowl and kept to him. Very consistent, not someone who gets hit too easily. Tried to use him in all manner of situations. Very happy with his bowling, despite the dew he bowled really well," he said. (India vs Australia: Can Mahendra Singh Dhoni Salvage Pride Down Under, One Last Time?)
He was picked for the Carlton Mid ODI Tri-Series Down Under in 2015 at a time when Ravindra Jadeja was suffering from a dip in form. But he failed to impress picking up just two wickets from four games. With the bat, he could only manage one run from three innings.
Suddenly questions were being raised about his ability to deal with tough situations. Axar, who was picked in the World Cup 2015 squad, didn't feature in single game. There was growing criticism with his one-dimensional bowling and several analysts said that his inability to spin the ball was working against him. During the Twenty20 series against South Africa, Sunil Gavaskar said he did not consider Axar as an international cricketer.
Following all the criticism, Axar put in some solid performances in the domestic circuit and on this tour, so far, he picked up 2/29 in the warm-up ODI game, and 2/13 in the warm-up Twenty20 game against Western Australia.
Revival of Ravindra Jadeja
Ravindra Jadeja has always been Dhoni's trusted guy to partner Ashwin. Jadeja adds value to the team not only as a bowler, but he is also a handy bat and a brilliant fielder. (Ravindra Jadeja: I Have Learnt a Big Lesson After Getting Dropped)
However, Jadeja too had a lean patch at the start of 2015. After suffering a shoulder injury, Jadeja struggled in the World Cup and also during India's tour to Bangladesh which they lost 1-2. Following that loss, he was dropped from the India squad for the South Africa Twenty20s and ODIs. He had to go back to the Ranji Trophies to revive his form and came back strongly by picking up 38 wickets in four Ranji Trophy matches for Saurashtra .
Jadeja's strong performances in the Ranji Trophy led to his recall in the India squad for the Test match series against South Africa and he responded with 23 wickets from four matches and together with Ashwin he decimated the Proteas 3-0 in the Test series. The "bits and pieces" cricketer suddenly had turned a new leaf and he was back amongst the scheme of things for India.
Looking at his current form, it won't be surprising to see the team going in with Jadeja due to his all-round skills. In the warm-up games against Western Australia, Jadeja picked up 2/13 in the Twenty20 game and then followed it with 2/38 in the one-day match. If the team management decides to play two spinners at the WACA, it would be Ashwin and Jadeja.
However, they would also like to give Axar some opportunities on the tour considering that the World Twenty20 is round the corner.