CHENNAI: It has taken India longer than other teams, but they finally have wrist-spinners in the scheme of things for one-dayers. Bowlers of this breed had been around as occasional inclusions for a while, but by naming Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav at the cost of the customary off-spinner in the 15 for the Sri Lanka one-dayers, the selectors and team management have shown they are willing to experiment.
It was overdue. Although the likes of Piyush Chawla, Amit Misha, Karn Sharma and Chahal got chances here and there in the last few years, when it came to big series or tournaments, it was invariably back to R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja. Squads for the last 50 and 20-over World Cups didn’t have leg-spinners, who gained in prominence in teams like Australia, England, South Africa, Pakistan, West Indies, even New Zealand.
The reason is simple. Containing batsmen is getting difficult by the day on pitches doctored for tall scores, teams have to look for wickets. And with off-spin and doosra and left-arm orthodox becoming predictable, they had to look for something else. With variations like googly, flipper, top-spin, leg-spinners and chinaman bowlers fit the bill. Knowing that either variety will go for runs, captains choose the ones with higher strike rates.
“It’ll depend on conditions and what the captain wants, but 20 overs from Chahal and Kuldeep will not make things easy for the batsmen,” former leg-spinner Sairaj Bahutule told Express.
“Both have done well, either in first-class cricket or IPL. Chahal has tasted success in the limited international opportunities he has got. With little time to settle down before you start looking for runs, variations and deceptions caused by that means there is always scope for these bowlers to take wickets.”
Amid debates over his preferences for certain other things, Virat Kohli has shown signs that he likes using leg-spinners as wicket-taking options. His decision to hand Test debut to Karn in Australia corroborates that.
Having captained Chahal during the IPL, he also fielded him against England in the T20s earlier this year, where the leg-spinner took 6/25 to record the best figures for an Indian in the shortest format.
“Chahal has been successful with his variations in speed and length other than the regular weapons that leg-spinners possess. He has bowled inside the first six overs in the IPL and knows how to handle pressure.
These things matter because they give the captain confidence that here’s someone who will take wickets even if he goes for a few runs,” noted Bahutule, who played a solitary Test and captained Mumbai with distinction.
That the selectors and the captain wanted to tick this box becomes evident from the selection of not just one, but two. Kohli has seen in the West Indies what Kuldeep can do and his reactions on TV had suggested he was pleased with the efforts of the chinaman. Given that four teams fielded specialist leg-spinners in the Champions Trophy in England, they might be in demand again when the country hosts the World Cup in 2019.
“For them to cement their places in the team, it will be more of a mental challenge than a test of skills. They will be playing against the best and both have to prepared for the fact that they are going to go for a few runs. If they factor in that at the planning stage and devise methods of taking wickets according to it, they will be successful,” said Bahutule.