With only three matches to go for the start of World Cup 2023, Team India are battling to identify the right combination for their lower-middle order.
The Men in Blue have been intent on fielding Axar Patel in tandem with Ravindra Jadeja when needing an additional spinner, but they are now trying out the option of having an off-spinner instead. Washington Sundar and Ravichandran Ashwin have been called up for the Australia ODIs in the wake of Axar's quadriceps injury.
It seems like a step in the right direction due to quite a few reasons. The structure of India's playing XI when the two left-handed all-rounders play has been slightly imbalanced, and having an off-spinner or a pace-bowling all-rounder seems like a better course of action.
Here are three reasons why India can't afford to play both Ravindra Jadeja and Axar Patel in their XI for the World Cup 2023.
#3 Hardik Pandya as the third pacer will be a risk at the World Cup 2023
This is a point that doesn't concern Jadeja and Axar themselves and has more to do with the overall composition of the side. At the same time, it's something that needs to be considered, since fielding the two spinning all-rounders would mean that Hardik Pandya would have to serve as the third pacer.
The Men in Blue are set to travel a lot during the World Cup, and Hardik will need to stay fresh throughout the competition. As arguably the most important member of India's ODI side, the vice-captain cannot afford to take any risks with his form or fitness.
Can Hardik be relied upon to bowl 10 overs in every game of the World Cup? At this point, probably not. India might be better served playing just one spin-bowling all-rounder and ensuring that either Shardul Thakur or Mohammed Shami slot in at No. 8.
#2 Axar Patel and Ravindra Jadeja are similar bowlers
Do Jadeja and Axar offer anything different with the ball? Powerplay bowling is one thing the latter provides in the shortest format, but India are unlikely to rely on spinners in the first 10 overs when they have Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Siraj leading the attack.
Both Jadeja and Axar are fairly defensive options in the middle overs with similar strengths and weaknesses. They are quick through the air, accurate with their lines and lengths, and like bowling to the same kinds of batters (more on that later).
In a bowling attack that boasts a great deal of variety otherwise, Jadeja and Axar don't offer any unique value, especially when the latter's spin-hitting ability isn't being used in the middle order. The team management has parked Axar at No. 8, where he has been reduced to not much more than a Jadeja sidekick.
So although they're different batters, they're being used in near-identical roles. And they're not vastly different bowlers.
#1 There will be too much pressure on Kuldeep Yadav to dismiss left-handers
This is perhaps India's biggest concern while playing Jadeja and Axar in tandem. Both bowlers aren't great against left-handers; in fact, their records are nothing short of terrible.
Axar's bowling average against left-handers in 2022 was 96, and this year, he's yet to dismiss a single one despite bowling as many as 72 deliveries to them. In 2023, his economy rate against southpaws is 7.42.
Jadeja's numbers aren't much better. His bowling average in 2023 is 45. It was 62 in 2020 and 65.4 in 2019, showing that his improved returns with the ball in the recent past don't extend to left-handed opponents. While his economy rate (5.74 in 2023) is better than his partner's, it certainly isn't enough to call him an ideal restrictive option.
This would place too much pressure on Kuldeep Yadav to dismiss left-handers, and most of the top teams have at least two southpaws in the middle order. Diluting the effectiveness of their biggest wicket-taking threat is a situation India won't want to be in.
Poll : Can India field Jadeja and Axar in tandem at the World Cup?