Cricket returned to India after nearly a year as the first Test against England kicked off under closed doors at the MA Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai on Friday.
When the playing XI was announced for the opener by skipper Virat Kohli, spinners R Ashwin, Washington Sundar and Shahbaz Nadeem made it to the team and Chinaman bowler Kuldeep Yadav was left out. Kuldeep, who was benched in all four Tests in Australia, has not played a Test for over two years since taking a five-wicket haul in the fourth and final Test against host Australia in Sydney in 2018-19.
Kohli said on the eve of the first Test that Kuldeep not playing Tests for over two years was partly because there was no cricket during the Covid-enforced lockdown. He also said that Kuldeep's chance would come.
"You can count two years but in 2020 we played no cricket for so long. So it is not that long a gap. New Zealand conditions was not suited to playing three spinners, something that he understood as an individual. But now that the home season starts, he will be in the scheme of things," Kohli had said on Thursday.
One explanation for Kuldeep not getting preferred is that India were looking to replace left-arm spin all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja who is out injured with a fractured thumb.
The first choice, as Kohli said on Thursday, was Axar Patel. as he could bowl left-arm orthodox spin like Jadeja and could bat as well.
"The reason was to have someone similar to Jadeja's skill-set or what they provide to the team which Axar brings in all three departments," said Kohli in response to a question on why Patel was preferred in the squad ahead of Nadeem, who was in the reserves.
However, as luck would have it, Axar was ruled out of the first Test and Nadeem, being a left-arm orthodox like him and Jadeja, was drafted in the XI ahead of Kuldeep.
Despite having local lads Ashwin and Sundar in the line-up, the hosts struggled to make inroads on the opening day. Nadeem couldn't make most of his opportunity and looked ordinary. He bowled 20 overs, leaked 69 runs including three maidens a no-ball at an economy rate of 3.45.
There is a possibility that Nadeem, could be replaced by Axar in the next Test if the Gujarat bowler regains fitness in time for the second Test, which will also be played here from February 13.
Meanwhile, Kuldeep's exclusion ticked the fans on social media and some former players comforted the spinner via social media.
Kuldeep last played a Test almost two years ago in 2019 against Australia in Sydney. Since then, he has been a regular player in India's Test squad but has warmed the bench in all 13 Test matches played in that duration.
Former India opener Gautam Gambhir said Kuldeep should've been picked straight up as he could have impacted the series' start.
"Little unfortunate on Kuldeep's part. They should have actually picked Kuldeep against England. A left-arm wrist spinner is a unique commodity. He's been with the team without playing much. He would have been a great asset," Gambhir told ESPNCricinfo.
Explaining his reasons for calling India's selection 'a massive surprise,' Gambhir said Kuldeep could turn it both ways and would have been an asset for India in the first Test.
"They are playing two off-spinners. Yes, probably they wanted a little more depth in the batting at No.7 and No.8. So it's a massive surprise. I would have picked Kuldeep any day. Whether it's a right-hander or a left-hander, it really doesn't matter when you've got a left-arm spinner who can take it both ways," Gambhir added.
Former India batsmen Mohammad Kaif also took to Twitter to express his thoughts on Kuldeep's exclusion.
"Just two years ago, Kuldeep Yadav was touted as India's first-choice spinner in Tests. Now, he's battling to stay afloat. But he needn't look too far for inspiration. Ashwin & Pant, too, fought back from periods of self-doubt. Stay strong, Kuldeep!" Kaif tweeted.
Kohli said that Kuldeep's fitness was an issue and also spoke about the challenge of keeping Kuldeep motivated.
"To keep guys motivated, you need to give them goals. There is something or other to work towards when you are part of the Indian cricket team... Kuldeep is someone who has a lot of skills. He understands there were areas he had to work on which he has worked on beautifully in Australia. He seems fitter. I see his bowling much more improved than it was before. He is adding to his skill-set," he had said referring to Kuldeep.
Kuldeep had recently told ESPNCricinfo.com that he was looking to play the first Test to build confidence.
"When you play regular cricket, the confidence comes automatically. If I play the first match, I will be in a better position to play the next game. Mentally I have kept myself very relaxed. Accordingly, my confidence level will be peaking," Kuldeep had said.
Former England skipper Michael Vaughan said that not picking left-arm spinner Kuldeep in the playing XI for the first Test was a "ridiculous decision" from India.
Vaughan questioned the decision of not picking the left-arm spinner and said if Kuldeep will not play in India then where will he play.
"Ridiculous decision by #India not to play @imkuldeep18!!! If he isn't going to play at home with the injuries they have when is he going to play !!! #INDvENG," Vaughan tweeted.
Meanwhile, England skipper Joe Root became the ninth batsman to slam a century in his 100th Test. It was the 10th instance of this feat occurring as former Australia captain Ricky Ponting is the only batsman to score centuries in both innings of his 100th Test, against South Africa in 2006.
Root brought up his 20th century off 164 balls, with the help of 12 boundaries. This was his third century in as many Tests, with earlier two coming in Sri Lanka in the previous series that England won 2-0, just before the team reached India for this series.
Root also became only the third cricketer to play both his first and 100th Test match in the same country he was touring. Root had made his debut in Nagpur in 2012 when England won the series 2-1. Friday's ton was his fifth one against India in 17 matches.
West Indies' Karl Hooper and India's Kapil Dev are the two others cricketers to make their Test debut and play their 100th Test in the same country. While Kapil made his debut (1978) and played his 100th Test (1989) in Pakistan, Hooper achieved that milestone in India (1987 and 2002).
Colin Cowdrey (104 vs Australia in 1968), Javed Miandad (145 vs India in 1969), Gordon Greenidge (149 vs England in 1990), Alec Stewart (105 vs West Indies in 2000), Inzamam-ul-haq (184 vs India in 2004), Ricky Ponting (120 and 143 not out vs South Africa in 2006), Graeme Smith (131 vs England in 2012) and Hashim Amla (134 vs Sri Lanka in 2017) have earlier scored centuries in their 100th Test.
(With Agency Inputs)