Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav basking in the age of wrist-spinners

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India’s spin cupboard has historically been well-stocked. But the emergence of the wrist-spin duo is reflective of the captain’s approach to modern-day limited-overs cricket.

Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav have struck a potentially long-standing left-right wrist-spin combination under Virat Kohli’s aggressive brand of captaincy. | K.R. Deepak

“Given the ability to land the ball always on a length, he would have been the greatest bowler who ever lived. Instead he looked to be so only once in a while”

These were cricket historian David Frith’s words on Leslie O’Brien ‘Chuck’ Fleetwood-Smith, who allegedly turned into a chinaman spinner after breaking his right arm when in school. Frith, who founded the Wisden Cricket Monthly, might as well have been talking about every single wrist-spinner out there, international or domestic. When everything is in sync, they own the world, but when they aren't, they appear ugly and things go awry pretty quickly.

Wrist spin is an art. Unlike the natural off-break which emanates from the fingers, wrist spin, as the name goes, is sheer magic that burgeons from the wrists. Make no mistake, this is a rare skill that few in the world have the chutzpah to pursue. Possibly every sport in the world has an integrant that is the least explored or essayed, into the depths of which those who wade become known as the legends of the game.

From Richie Benaud, a pioneer of the art of wrist spin, to the mesmerising Shane Warne to the skiddy Rashid Khan, the flame of wrist spin has found a wick in every generation. There is a paradoxical reason why this rare skill has found raging success in limited-overs cricket in recent times. While the focus in the shorter format is on slowing the run-rate down, the pressure to clear the fence grows year by year, leading captains to look for spinners who can turn the ball away from the batsmen and goad him into a throwing his wicket away.

As former India captain Dilip Vengsarkar says, “They [wrist-spinners] pick up wickets. And the best way to slow down the run-rate is to keep taking wickets.”


Leg spin is not very conditions-dependent like off-spin is and offers a slew of variations that off-spinners can only dream wistfully about. That the revolutions on the ball come from the wrists aids them on most surfaces, including green ones outside the sub-continent. As such, they are able to find turn almost everywhere.

“You have the leg-break, the googly, the top-spinner and the flipper. When the batsmen are trying to have a go, they often don’t pick these deliveries”, former Indian leggie L. Sivaramakrishnan says.

Amid the demand for wrist-spinners in world cricket, two Indian spinners — Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav — have taken limited-overs cricket by storm. Two young bowlers who surfaced on the back of India’s painful loss to Pakistan in the Champions Trophy final in June 2017, Chahal and Kuldeep have transcended the boundaries of ordinary and is venturing past the realms of excellence, forcing Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, the team’s former spin incumbents, out of business in the shorter formats of the game.


Their impact is easily gauged by the fact that out of the 23 One Day Internationals that India has played since that fateful evening at The Oval, every single one has involved one or both of Chahal and Kuldeep.

They have lost just four matches and won eighteen in this period with the wrist-spin twins each contributing 28 wickets apiece in 16 matches. They are both second in the top wicket-takers’ chart since the Champions Trophy and already appear like the X-factor that India need in foreign conditions to win major tournaments.

India has a rich pedigree of wrist-spinners. From the enticing Subhash Gupte, who awed Gary Sobers, to Bhagwat Chandrasekhar, who had an impossible googly, to the craftsman called Anil Kumble, the country has produced a long line of wrist-spinners who have set the stage on fire in International cricket. But playing two of the same kind in the same XI was unheard of until Virat Kohli decided to unleash Chahal and Kuldeep together. It helps that both the bowlers still have that mystery about them, which makes batting against them an arduous task, as the South Africans are discovering.

The results of their combined onslaught have been remarkable. To put things into perspective, Ashwin and Jadeja had 6 and 11 wickets respectively between the start of 2016 and mid-2017, a period of one-and-a-half years, and averaged 80.50 and 60.27 respectively. Check out the economy rate and you notice that the Tamil Nadu spinner went at more than 6 runs an over while Jadeja had a rate of 5.52. The strike rates for the duo were 75.0 and 65.4 respectively during this period, a marked difference from the period’s average strike rates for spinners. The chart below shows the comparison of their numbers between January 1, 2016 and the finals of the Champions Trophy in June, 2017.



This clearly shows how pathetic India’s spinners were during this time frame. On the other hand, after the decision to ‘rest’ the two Test spinners and bring in Chahal and Kuldeep, the numbers take a stark turn.

Chahal and Kuldeep contributed 8.139% of the wickets to fall to spinners post the Champions Trophy while their economy and strike rate are markedly better than that of the average for all spinners. The chart below highlights their numbers against those of all other spinners since the showpiece event in England.



The two bring completely different qualities to the table. While Chahal is flat and skiddish and uses his chess-trained brain to fox batsmen, Kuldeep relies on flight, dip and pace variations. While most wrist-spinners are quicker through the air, the ability to slow it up and generate more turn even on unresponsive tracks has worked in the favour of India’s new-age heroes.

“Earlier, Anil Kumble was the one who could really spin the ball away from the bat. He bowled pretty quick and the ball would come on to the bat. But these guys [Chahal and Yadav] are a lot slower,” South Africa's batting coach Dale Benkenstein had said after the second ODI of the ongoing series, in which the home team was reduced to their lowest ODI score at home.

13 of the 18 wickets to fall in South Africa’s innings in the first two ODIs went to Chahal and Kuldeep. With exceptional guile and mind-boggling variations, the duo have had the world’s no.1 team’s batsmen all at sea. With their impeccable control and mastery over their skills, Chahal and Kuldeep might just have effectively ruined Ashwin and Jadeja’s 2019 World Cup dreams already.

All that said, the phrase ‘never say never’ seems to epitomise the ever-industrious Ashwin. The off-spinner recently revealed that he was working on his leg-spin ahead of the IPL.


“Leg spin is part of my plan going into the IPL. I am just trying to build my armoury. I used to bowl good legbreaks with my offspin action when I was playing league cricket in Chennai. Over a period of time, in a search to get my stock ball right, I obviously had to cut out a lot of those things. I had possessed a lot more variations. Having bowled offbreak as the stock ball for almost 10 years, trying to change things around is challenging. But I don't really settle for anything. At no point in my career have I thought ‘this is it’ and decided to settle for the rest of my career,” Ashwin recently said, as revealed by ESPNCricinfo.

“The process is that everybody [leg-spinners] has their stock ball, which I like to call their best ball. The ball you can fall back on and which you can bowl with your eyes shut. You then understand the angle of the wrist and the angle of the release. That is the only thing that matters”, Australia's unlucky leggie, Stuart MacGill once said, perhaps indicating the degree of inventiveness someone like Ashwin possesses.

With such bullish confidence and positive attitude, the veteran tweaker Ashwin can keep Chahal and Kuldeep on their toes. For now, though, the two wrist-spinners rule limited-overs cricket and deserve their share of the spotlight.

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