Slow through the air and low on form, Yuzvendra Chahal might not be as indispensable to India as he seems

5th T20 International: India v South Africa
Yuzvendra Chahal is a purist's dream, but the game isn't for purists anymore

Yuzvendra Chahal is a purist's dream. He's a shiny Cadillac Model Thirty in a street filled with sleek Range Rover Evoques; a wily leg-spinner who chucks the ball above the batters' eyelines and watches it crush their dreams on its way down. But is the game for purists anymore? Can the Cadillac keep up?

For what it's worth, Chahal's been trying. He's much more reliant on the googly than he was earlier, and it seemed like he was making a conscious effort to whip his googly into shape during the T20I series earlier this year. The 32-year-old has also attempted to vary his pace a lot more, occasionally delivering the quicker one and moving away from his overcooked ploy of tossing the ball up well outside off.

Unfortunately for Chahal, although he's an old dog trying to learn new tricks, he hasn't been able to learn them fast enough. He remains a vital member of Team India; that much is clear from what Rohit Sharma and the support staff have to say. But looking into his performances over the last two years, there's some cause for concern.

Numbers don't lie, and Yuzvendra Chahal's post-pandemic T20I stats are pretty ordinary

Among the widespread devastation caused by COVID-19 lies Yuzvendra Chahal's T20I bowling form
Among the widespread devastation caused by COVID-19 lies Yuzvendra Chahal's T20I bowling form

Numbers don't lie, and here's a damning statistic. Ever since the start of 2020, Chahal has played 29 T20Is. In these matches, he has picked up more than one wicket six times.

The team's leading and often only wrist-spinner, playing in the XI because he tosses the ball up and coaxes batters into offering him their wickets, picks up more than one wicket only once every five matches. To make matters worse, Chahal has played 18 of these 29 matches in Asia, where he's bound to have gotten more assistance than he will in Australia during the upcoming T20 World Cup.

It can be construed as a positive sign, then, that five of these six occasions have been since the start of June 2022. Perhaps Chahal's regaining the form that was a casualty in the widespread devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic. But he hasn't done nearly enough to instill confidence.

In four matches against South Africa earlier in the year, where he recorded two of his six two-or-more hauls, Chahal was plundered for 2.1-0-26-0 and 4-0-49-1 in the other two matches. Even when he's done well, he hasn't been in a good run of form. It's safe to say that he hasn't been in a good run of form in T20I cricket since the turn of 2020.

Pakistan took him for 0/32 and 1/43 in the two matches Chahal played in the Asia Cup. He did well in his second spell against Sri Lanka (3/34) and bowled an economical four overs against Hong Kong, but the experienced leg-spinner didn't live up to his billing in the UAE.

More concerningly, Chahal hasn't been able to get the best opposition batters out. Against South Africa, he got rid of Dwaine Pretorius, Heinrich Klaasen, Rassie van der Dussen, and Anrich Nortje. No disrespect to them, but they're either lower-order batters or pace hitters.

Against England, he dismissed Moeen Ali, Harry Brook and Dawid Malan. Better results, but the opposition had been reduced to 27-3 and 33-4 in the two games before he came on to bowl. Of course, that's not a knock on Chahal since he did his job well, but the only performance that stands out over the last two years is his concussion-sub three-wicket haul against Australia.

What does Yuzvendra Chahal actually bring to India's T20I side?

Yuzvendra Chahal offers four overs, but are those four overs meaningful enough to a T20 game?
Yuzvendra Chahal offers four overs, but are those four overs meaningful enough to a T20 game?

At the end of the day, Chahal's value to the Indian T20I side is limited to the four overs he bowls. He isn't electric on the field and certainly isn't anything to write home about with the bat. That's where he comes up short when compared to other shortest-format leg-spinners right now.

To make things worse, Chahal has bowled most of his overs in the 7-15 phase. In T20I cricket since the start of 2020, the leggie has bowled only 13 overs in the powerplay, in which he has taken only two wickets at an economy rate of 8.61 and a bowling average of 56. At the death, he has bowled only five overs, picking up three scalps and leaking runs at 11.41.

Clearly, India want to use him in the middle overs, and even when they choose otherwise, they haven't seen any meaningful results. This is in sharp contrast to IPL 2022, where Chahal recorded seven wickets across 85 balls at the death at an economy rate of 10.16.

Chahal's limited role is made worse by the fact that other leggies like Wanindu Hasaranga and Rashid Khan are all-phase bowlers as well as all-rounders. Shadab Khan might also be predominantly used in the middle overs, but he's a spin hitter and electric fielder. Adam Zampa and Adil Rashid are the closest comparisons to Chahal, but the two leg-spinners have far better recent records.

What does the future hold for Yuzvendra Chahal?

India will continue to back Yuzvendra Chahal, and he needs to find his bearings
India will continue to back Yuzvendra Chahal, and he needs to find his bearings

At the end of the day, India aren't going to drop Chahal. He's the only wrist-spinner in the T20 World Cup squad and at his best, he's definitely a match-winner. But in the short term, it might make sense for the Men in Blue to play Ravichandran Ashwin and shore up their batting, especially considering the aggressive approach they intend to adopt at the top of the order.

In Ashwin and Axar Patel, India could have two restrictive spinners who can keep things tight. Wickets will eventually fall as a result of defensive bowling, or as Ashwin would say, "six well-constructed bad balls." Chahal is a luxury India might not be able to afford right now, although they would welcome his return to wicket-taking form with open arms.

Chahal is a quality bowler; he may take 15 wickets in the two series against Australia and South Africa, as well as another 10 in the T20 World Cup, to silence his critics. But of late, he's been a letdown. And as things currently stand, he isn't as indispensable to the Indian team as he seems.

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Edited by Sai Krishna