In the prolonged absence of the injured pace duo of Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, India's attack post their World Cup campaign in July has often looked like a lamb to the slaughter in limited-over cricket. That Deepak Chahar, with his military medium but skillful bowling, became their primary weapon before an injury laid him low speaks volumes about their over-rated pace resources.
Given the fact that India haven't lost any of the T20I or ODI series after their semifinal exit from the World Cup, the observation may sound alarming but, truth be told, they haven't been tested against stronger and smarter teams. Of the three teams India have come up between July and December, two have been Bangladesh and West Indies. While they beat Bangladesh 2-1 in the T20 contests, Virat Kohli and Co got the better of the Caribbeans 2-1 in the ODIs.
For all their progress in the shorter version, Bangladesh still have to learn to finish off games from winning positions against superior outfits while West Indies, despite their proven proficiency in the white-ball game, have the supreme gift of throwing it all away without as much of a sign. The only side that tested them was South Africa who drew the T20 series 1-1 after a game was washed away.
India are to begin their new year with a three-match T20I series against Sri Lanka from January 5, and while the islanders may not provide much of a challenge, their sterner tasks will come when Australia visit the country between January 14 and 19 for three ODIs and when India tour New Zealand for five T20Is and two ODIs besides two Tests.
While the return of Bumrah, their No 1 all-format bowler, will provide that missing edge what is of no small concern is the ineffectiveness of wrist-spin pair of Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav. Since the two supplanted the established finger-spin combo of R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, together they had enjoyed some unprecedented success for close to one and half years and the numbers speak for themselves. The experiment to play two wrist spinners by Kohli was a radical move, at least in India's context, and the one that saw immediate results. The two hit off like a house on fire, more complementing each other than competing with each other.
Chahal and Kuldeep were expected to play a major role on England's pitches in India's World Cup quest but they came undone spectacularly. In fact, the duo had begun to unravel during India's last ODI series before the mega event - against Australia at home. Nothing illustrated their woes better than the series decider in Mohali where India failed to defend a mammoth total of 358 and the ridiculous ease with which Australia overhauled the target. With 13 balls to spare in the chase! Chahal and Kuldeep leaked 144 runs between them in 20 overs in exchange of two wickets.
The two spinners had been brought on board to take wickets and stem the flow of runs in the middle overs, something that Ashwin-Jadeja pair had struggled to manage. For close to two years, Chahal and Kuldeep did this job adroitly before imploding just in time for the World Cup.
India had begun to sense the perils of playing both wrist-spinners together as they offered little with the bat and weren't exactly Jonty Rhodes on the field. The team management wisely shipped Jadeja to England and the left-arm spin all-rounder came unscathed in the chances he got. Though Jadeja hasn't set the turf on fire with wickets, he has provided depth to a batting line-up, which otherwise has a long tail, and fortified a large area on the field.
Since that Australia series, which India lost despite leading by 2-0, Chahal-Kuldeep figures have taken a huge beating. Since they came together in September 2017 and up until the start of World Cup, Chahal's 75 wickets in 44 matches came at an average of 26.89, an economy rate of 5.18 and strike rate of 31.13. The corresponding figures for Kuldeep stood at 89 wickets, 50 matches, 25.46 average, 5.10 economy and 29.96 strike rate.
From the Australia series in March, Chahal has taken a mere 14 wickets from 10 matches. His average has gone up to 39.57, economy over six runs per over and strike rate 43.3 balls per wicket. Similarly, Kuldeep has conceded almost 40 runs for each of his 22 scalps in 17 matches while economy rate is 5.44. More strikingly, the strike rate has gone up to 43.3.
Both Kuldeep and Chahal are important to India's scheme of things as the T20 World Cup approaches fast. They are talented and have done enough for the team management to continue to invest their trust in them. But with the batsmen world over finding a way to tackle them, they need to find their mojo back. Perhaps reinvent their strategies.