If India wish to play their best spinner in the squad in Kuldeep Yadav at some stage in the T20 world cup, they will have to make a difficult choice of dropping Ravindra Jadeja. Axar Patel’s stocks are flying high, as evidenced by his promotion to No.4 against Pakistan and his bowling figures are better than Jadeja’s in T20. There is no doubt that Kuldeep is the better strike bowler than Jadeja.

The difficulty quotient rises as neither India nor Chennai Super Kings have ever benched Jadeja when he was in the T20 squad. He has been that valuable to them. But if India need more wicket-taking options once the caravan shifts to West Indies later, then they will have to blood Kuldeep – and the tricky game against the hosts USA, who beat Pakistan earlier, gives them a chance to try out Kuldeep. But such has been his spirited efforts whenever his spot has been under pressure in the past that if he is given a chance against the US, Jadeja might well sparkle and cackle at the critics.

But India will have to peer ahead into the tournament now and find their best XI. Going by the conditions they have faced so far in New York, it is hard to make out where India stands exactly. They have had two wins out of two and a victory against the US on Wednesday will confirm their berth in the Super 8s. Kuldeep would be the best bet to seal that much-needed win against US, whose batsmen wouldn’t have faced the likes of the chinaman of this quality.

In a team that is already short on firepower and has made compromises to fit Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli at the top, the middle and lower-order are India’s lifelines with the bat. And here is where Jadeja’s limitations as a T20 batsman loads things against him. Apart from having a limited range, Jadeja isn’t the power-hitter that a team would slot in the lower-order. He is more of a pace-hitter, but in these conditions where the fast bowlers take the pace off to make full use of the two-paced nature of pitches, Jadeja has shown signs of struggle in the past.

And he doesn’t fit in the middle order as teams choke him with spin. This season, CSK tried to use him at No 4 when they lost a few early wickets. But even that move was short-lived. With spinners tying him up and his penchant to start slow meant CSK binned the idea. (Jadeja’s strike-rate in the middle-overs (7-16) is 109.68 in all T20s).

Festive offer

It’s not as if Jadeja, who helped CSK lift the trophy two years back with his last-over heroics, doesn’t have the T20 runs, but it’s the context, his position, his form, and the conditions that have to be taken in. account. Across all IPLs, only MS Dhoni, Kieron Pollard, Dinesh Karthik and AB de Villiers have scored more runs in the death overs (17-20) than the 1420 made by Jadeja. But his strike-rate of 159.73 is the lowest among the top 10 run getters at the death in the IPL. Even Rohit (196.65) and Kohli (200.91) have scored significantly higher than Jadeja, who has batted more than 90 per cent of his matches for Chennai Super Kings at No 5 or lower.

CSK’s batting coach Mike Hussey had spoken about Jadeja during the IPL. “One of his strengths is being able to work the balls into the gaps, use his pace running between the wickets and picking the right times and the right bowlers to attack. In the last few years he’s come in very late, batting with MS [Dhoni] towards the back end. And this year we’ve asked him a few times to come in at the No. 4 positions. It’s a very different role and sometimes depending on the situation, you need to just be free and go quite quickly. But other times you’ve lost a couple of wickets in the powerplay, you need to take a little bit of time to build the next partnership,” Hussey had said.

With India, however, their answer to losing early wickets seems to be Axar, who apart from being a capable hitter against pace can also lay into the spinners. Although he did not make much against Pakistan, Axar’s intent when he came in after Rohit’s dismissal, was encouraging as he was prepared to take down the Pakistan pacers.

And even with the ball, India have the luxury of using Axar wherever they intend to, especially in the power plays. So far in his T20 career, Jadeja has taken only 7 wickets in the first six overs and has an economy rate of 8.19.

Axar, on the other hand, has picked 34 wickets in the powerplay at an economy of 7.44. And just like his batting, Axar is flexible with the ball as well. Right through his IPL career and international as well, Jadeja mostly bowls in the middle-overs (7-16), which means unless Rohit has limited options to shuffle his bowlers in this phase. In conditions where defending scores seems to be the key, every over will count, especially when Rohit’s love for match-ups.

The main concern about getting Kuldeep for Jadeja is that India would be a bit short on the batting depth. But of late, though not equal to Jadeja, Kuldeep has been showing his capabilities as a batsman as well. But the main point is this: with the conditions expected to get slower in the Caribbean where the Super 8s will take place, India needs a way to accommodate Kuldeep as dropping one of the three pacers comes with its own risk, particularly if one has an off day And if it’s Bumrah who has that rare off day, without Kuldeep, India won’t have a proper strike bowler who can create something out of nothing.