Wrist-Spinner Breakthroughs: Yadav and Chahal

Alagappan Muthu, coutesy of ESPNcricinfo, 19 September 2017, where the title is Kuldeep, Chahal, and cracking the India XI”

Wristspinners are becoming an indispensable part of one-day cricket. They are fun to watch – even on bad days – but on the good ones they have the ability to make the strongest batting line-ups seem like the second XI of a village team at a county fair. While Australia might not have been so terribly undone – the margin of defeat in the series opener was only 26 runs via DLS method – Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav might feel like they are at the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

On Sunday, they were playing together for the second time — having done so earlier in the fifth ODI in Sri Lanka. That was the first time a pair of specialist wristspinners bowled in an ODI for India – that’s across 43 years and 922 matches. The statistic is certainly eye-popping but there is another implication to it. That only rarely do teams need more than one of these tricksters. Clearly there’s a debate here, so let’s get into it.

Yuzvendra Chahal celebrates after dismissing Glenn Maxwell Associated Press

The pros
One-day cricket is, largely, skewed in favour of batsmen, but that too places certain demands on them. They are obliged to swing like madmen and exploit flat pitches and small boundaries almost every other over. In such circumstances, watching the ball out of the hand takes a back seat and that is why wristspinners capable of testing both the inside and outside edge and seam bowlers with deceptive variations, like the knuckle ball, have become important.

Next, let’s consider the middle overs, fast becoming the most crucial segment in ODIs. A set batsman might feel comfortable by now. He suspects he has earned the right to take a few liberties; and in the case of a new batsman, he’d feel compelled to keep up the run-rate. Wristspinners are excellently placed to bring down such pre-determined notions.

With Chahal and Kuldeep as wildcard options, India seem to have built themselves a varied and potent attack. At the Champions Trophy, they were among the few teams without wristspinners. But it can’t be taken for granted that simply having them leads to victory, in much the same way batsmen can’t explicitly believe they are the bosses of ODI and T20 cricket.

The con(dition)s
There will be pitches where an extra seamer is needed – certainly in England where the next World Cup will take place. Even in the recent whitewash of Sri Lanka, in conditions where the ball usually turns, India prefered the combination of a wristspinner and a fingerspinner. That might have been the case against Australia too – if not for Axar Patel injuring himself and Ravindra Jadeja’s call-up going out as late as the eve of the match.

Left with few other options, the management backed Kuldeep and Chahal to take wickets even if it meant they had to carry a couple of weaker batsmen. It turned out to be a fine – if forced – choice. At least one of them might be needed to turn a World Cup match on its head, and it’s best that they go in with enough experience to do so.

VVS Laxman wrote in Times of India: “Even though Ravindra Jadeja has been called into the squad as replacement for Axar Patel, my firm belief is that Kuldeep and Chahal must play all the matches so that they enhance their learning and settle down within the framework of the team.”

A second string
Axar played four of the five ODIs in Sri Lanka. So did Chahal. But Kuldeep got only two games. Variety might have played a part in this: India might have wanted a spinner who can be trusted to tie up one end, which then leaves the other to actively search for wickets.

It could also be that Axar’s batting ability is better rated. The left-arm orthodox spinner has on occasion been used as a floater by Kings XI Punjab in the IPL and his ball-striking is a clear advantage. In franchise T20s, he has faced 626 balls with a strike-rate of 134.50, bolstered by 54 fours and 39 sixes. Kuldeep goes at just about a run a ball in T20 cricket, but he has a century and five fifties in first-class cricket. Chahal, on the other hand, is a bit of a mug with the bat.

It is hard imagining India going into an ICC tournament without either of R Ashwin – who has been rotated out – and Jadeja – recalled after originally being rested. It really isn’t that big a stretch to believe they can adapt their fingerspin and stay relevant in the limited-overs game. So in a way, even as they plot the downfall of Australia over the coming days, Kuldeep and Chahal might well be in competition against each other.

Leaving aside the five batsmen and the wicketkeeper, Jasprit Bumrah is the end-overs specialist. Bhuvneshwar Kumar, his partner in crime. Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav are waiting in the wings. Hardik Pandya is the allrounder. This XI is tough to crack. Multi-faceted players, however, can jump the queue because a captain needs options, now more than ever, and it is up to Kuldeep and Chahal to make themselves un-droppable (or un-restable).

*GMT 0320 The article was amended to reflect the fact that Kuldeep and Chahal were playing their second ODI together and not their first

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