Wrist-spin duo of Chahal and Kuldeep have provided a different dimension to India's bowling
PLOTTING A DOWNFALL: Attack-minded wrist-spinners Yuzvendra Chahal (left) and Kuldeep Yadav have emerged as India's major trump cards in limited-overs format. AFP
It wasn't too long ago when R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja seemed almost irreplaceable in the Indian team. While their Test feats were incomparable, they didn't face much threat either to their places in the limited-overs format. But when the Chief of Selectors, MSK Prasad announced -- in a press conference after the third and final Test in Pallekele in August last“ that Ashwin and Jadeja would be rested/rotated for the following five ODIs and a one-off T20I against the island nation, it gave rise to a few questions.
On the face of it, giving chances to the likes of leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal and left-arm chinaman Kuldeep Yadav appeared an effort to broaden India's pool of players but as the duo was persisted series after series at the expense of Ashwin and Jadeja, it became clearer that the team management was looking beyond off-spin and left-arm spin combo which had served so well in the longer format but hadn't been half as impressive in the shorter version during the same period.
The success Chahal and Kuldeep have enjoyed since their coming together both in the sub-continent and in the just-concluded ODI series against South Africa in the Rainbow nation has firmly entrenched them in the Indian team's set-up. Now, they are to the Indian limited-overs side what Ashwin and Jadeja have been to the Test team while bowling in sub-continental conditions. While Virat Kohli's exploits with the bat were unparalleled in their 5-1 rout of South Africa, the role of Chahal and Kuldeep was no less significant. Between the two, they accounted for 33 wickets at an economy rate of 4.82 runs an over and at an average of 15.02 runs per batsman. Never in the history of Indian cricket two spinners have had such an influence on the outcome of a series and that too in non-subcontinental conditions.
If you compare Ashwin and Jadeja's performances (since January last to till they were left out of the squad) with that of Chahal and Kuldeep in ODIs alone, there is a massive difference. In 11 matches during that period, Ashwin has taken 10 wickets at an average of 55.80 and an economy of 5.93. Jadeja fares no better with 11 wickets in as 15 matches with an average of 67.09 and economy of 5.27.
On the other hand, since their arrival together on the tour of Sri Lanka, Chahal and Kuldeep have been a revelation. Where Chahal has taken 37 wickets in 19 innings at 23.29 (average) and 4.97 (economy), Kuldeep has claimed 39 scalps in 18 innings at 20.02 and 4.80. From the bowlers' point of view, they have made the biggest impact and their fledgling careers are pregnant with great possibilities. Kohli is already looking at Chahal and Kuldeep as certainties for the 2019 World Cup in England where both Ashwin and Jadeja failed to make an impact during the Champions Trophy last year.
"Look they are obviously making a very strong case for themselves, bowling in these conditions and making breakthroughs like we haven't seen before," said Kohli on duo's chances of playing in the World Cup. "It's outstanding to see two guys just totally spinning a web around the opposition. There doesn't seem to be a way out at all. It's unbelievable."
If the pitches are docile or non-conducive to spinners, the finger spinners become that much more ineffective. Wrist spinners, on the contrary, can get the ball to turn on any surface and if there is bounce available, like they found it in South Africa, they can be dangerous. Another advantage for wrist spinners is their ability turn the ball away and into a batsman without much change in action. Wrist spinners are also prone to leaking runs but they also have brighter chances of picking up wickets and there is no better way to stem the flow of runs than claiming wickets.
A leg-spinner thus needs to have a big heart to succeed and Chahal and Kuldeep have it in them -- they are courageous enough to toss the ball and are unafraid to set attacking field, always looking for wickets. Of course, it helps that you have the full backing of an influential captain.
"They are told to go for wickets at all times," pointed out Kohli. "When you are going for wickets you are bowling in areas that are uncomfortable for the batsmen and, more often than not, they end up defending. When you bowl wide and try to save runs then you give an opportunity to take singles also. So, I think all the credit has to go to them because they've executed those lines and lengths perfectly. They might get hit for 70-odd in the next game. But there is no problem in that because you know that if they bowl attacking lines then they will end up picking two-three wickets every game. In these conditions now and we are going to play the World Cup away from home, that I think is going to be the massive X-factor for us," he offered.
While the door is not yet completely shut on Ashwin and Jadeja insofar as their limited-overs future is concerned, it is difficult to imagine a comeback for the experienced pair if Chahal and Kuldeep remain injury-free.