Chahal and Yadav: The Stars for India In Limited-Overs Cricket
Together, the two have been relentless, aggressive, wicket-taking and pugnacious.
It is quite the age of wrist spinners in limited-overs cricket. Right from the exuberant Imran Tahir to the reticent Samuel Badree, leg-spinners are ruling the roost in the shorter formats of the game due to their sheer ability to snap up wickets. India, on the cusp of becoming a colossal force in cricket like the West Indies of the 70s and 80s and Australia of the 90s and 2000s are bolstered by two of a kind - Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav.
If not for Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja's atrocious show in the Champions Trophy in June this year, neither Chahal nor Kuldeep would have been any closer to playing a lot of ODIs.
But the need for a radical change in mindset - thankfully to a more positive one - has seen Chahal and Kuldeep thrive. Two attacking wrist-spinners in a single team was unheard of. That Kuldeep is a chinaman spinner adds to the mystery factor while Chahal's chessmaster-like brain helps him in flummoxing opposition batsmen.
Together, the two have been relentless, aggressive, wicket-taking and pugnacious. To put things into perspective statistically, Kuldeep Yadav has taken 22 wickets in 14 ODIs this year at an average of 24.77 while Chahal has 21 in 14 games at 28.57. Bear in mind that Ashwin had gone for a whopping 167 in his 29 overs in the Champions Trophy reaping just a single wicket while Jadeja went for 249 in 42 overs for a paltry four wickets.
Guaranteed, the stars weren't aligned in their favour in England and Kuldeep - Chahal's success has come on sub-continental wickets. But the striking part of this bowling partnership has been the manner in which they have complemented and contrasted each other despite their similarities as spinners.
“We have been playing together for quite a while now. I think it has easily been five-seven years. So you can say we have a lot of experience of playing together as well as playing against one another. It may not necessarily be international experience, but we have played a lot of domestic cricket away from the spotlight. Also, the IPL is as intense as international cricket. Playing with high profile international stars has allowed us to gain confidence, and the three of us share this common trait”, Chahal had said expressing how the two have worked their way into International contention.
In T20Is, the pair has been even more influential - Chahal even more so. The Royal Challengers Bengaluru leggie is the highest wicket-taker in T20Is this year as this article is being penned down, taking 19 wickets in 10 matches at 14.36. Kuldeep has got fewer chances in the format and has eight in six games at an impressive economy of below 7.
As India thumped Sri Lanka to register their biggest T20I win on Wednesday, Chahal and Kuldeep stood out for the remarkable manner in which they spun a web around the visitors. Chahal returned with jaw-dropping figures of 4/23 - his second four plus wicket-haul in T20s this year - while Kuldeep was equally impressive with his variations.
“Those two guys (Chahal and Kuldeep), if you look at their careers over the last few months, they have always been a wicket-taking option in the middle. It’s important to understand what the team expects of them and they’ve delivered. They don’t fail to impress us”, Rohit Sharma, the stand-in skipper had said after the match.
Unleashing them together was thought to be a recipe for disaster until India actually implemented it and reaped unexpected rewards. It was fury unfurled in the middle-overs as the spin twins worked batsmen over with tight lines, inviting flighted balls and accurately positioned fields. In short, it was sheer delight to watch the two in action, bowling in tandem.
As a wrist spinner, you are expected to bring an attacking mindset to the wicket even at the expense of going for a few runs. It is a trait common amongst all wrist spinners in world cricket. What makes Chahal - Kuldeep even more threatening is that they pick wickets while conceding at a lesser rate.
They might have bowled in tandem only for a handful of games but have already shown an understanding reminiscent of the greatest spin bowling partnerships in the history of cricket. Bear in mind, none of those partnerships featured two wrist spinners.
That their repertoire is rich with a large number of variations - googly, top-spin, conventional leggies, straighter deliveries, dip and flight - makes the spin twins even more bullying. At the moment, Chahal is definitely the leader of the two with Kuldeep occasionally replaced by an Axar Patel or a Washington Sundar. But there is no doubting that the most successful permutation has been between Kuldeep and Chahal. Wrist spinners are trending in World cricket and few come more menacing than the duo! Watch out, rest of the World!