Should India guard its wrist-spin twins against overexposure before the World Cup?
India won the second ODI against New Zealand by a comfortable margin of 90 runs. Batting first after winning the toss, India made 324 for 4 in its allotted 50 overs.
For India, all batsmen on show contributed substantially with Rohit Sharma being the highest scorer with 87 followed by his fellow opener Shikhar Dhawan who made 66. The opening partnership was worth 154 which laid down the foundation for this easy win.
In bowling, the Indian spinners shared seven wickets amongst each other, with Kuldeep Yadav finishing with figures of 4 for 45. In the end, India could wrap up the New Zealand innings in just over 40 overs. India has taken a 2-0 lead in the five-match ODI series.
While we rejoice India’s victory made possible by the two wrist-spinners Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal, the parallel question in the minds of everyone watching is 'Should India not guard its wrist-spin twins against overexposure before the World Cup?'.
It is a tricky question. On one hand, India won’t achieve such facile wins without its wrist-spinners. On the other hand, with the World Cup barely 4 months away, why not keep them under wraps until then. The World Cup comes once in 4 years and a team isn't considered a No. 1 team in the World unless and until it wins the Cup every now and then.
Besides, the forthcoming World Cup in England would be the toughest in terms of format after the 1992 World Cup. As in 1992, in this edition too each team will play all other nine teams once in the group round-robin stage before the top 4 teams qualify for the semi-final. In that respect, the outcome of each and every group match is vital for the final position of the teams.
For India, it would be another opportunity to triumph in the country where they had won the trophy for the first time in 1983. The Indians have the balanced team to do it this time around too. In that context, it would be imperative for India to prevent overexposure of its wrist-spinners before the Cup.
As such, India cannot totally stop playing its wrist-spinners until the commencement of the World Cup as it would be at the cost of losing matches as well as causing lack of match practice to the players concerned. On the other hand, the opponents should only be subjected to a limited dose of the mystery surrounding Kuldeep and Chahal.
How to achieve the dual objective?
India is playing a total of 8 ODIs before the World Cup. Three more in the current series against New Zealand and five against Australia at home. If India manages to win the third ODI on Monday and with that the series, India can afford to rest both Kuldeep and Chahal for the remainder of the series. That way they can be saved from playing the dead rubber. That opportunity can be given to someone like a Ravindra Jadeja or Mohammad Siraj or a Khaleel Ahmed.
Even in the matches that they play before the World Cup, Kohli can stop bowling the wrist-spinners once the outcome of the match is sealed.
In the second ODI against New Zealand, when the Kiwis slumped to 166 for 8, the game as a contest was as good as over. But Kohli was tempted to continue with Kuldeep to give him an opportunity to go for his five-wicket haul. Moreover, since no specialist batsman was around at that time, in a way it made sense. Alternately, a few overs spell from Vijay Shankar at that stage would have given him the much-needed match practice.
One of Kuldeep and Chahal could be rotated in the three T20Is against New Zealand following the ODIs. India need not go in with both the wrist-spinners in the T20I series as there are so many common players in the New Zealand squad playing both ODI and T20I for their country. Besides, the format of the T20 cricket is such that it could dent the confidence of any bowler within a short span of one over.
In the home ODI series against Australia, India could have played both the wrist-spinners for the first couple of matches and rest them thereafter. At home, India will have the adequate firepower to tame the Aussies even without its two mystery spinners. Both Kuldeep and Chahal are young and have a lot of cricket left in them. They wouldn't mind missing a couple of matches before the World Cup in order to win the World Cup.
If given an opportunity, both Kuldeep and Chahal should stay away from IPL this year. When the whole talk is about resting the fast bowlers before the World Cup, India would be actually better off resting these two wrist-spinners to prevent overexposure.
If for any commercial reason that is not probable, these two can at the very least stay away from bowling to overseas batsmen on the nets. They are professional players who understand the fact that the country comes first above everything else.
To sum up, both Kuldeep and Chahal are of paramount importance to India’s success in the forthcoming World Cup. They are precious in nature and should be preserved at all cost until the Cup for which some sacrifices will have to be made.
In England, the conditions are expected to be batsman-friendly and the role of these wicket-taking bowlers in such conditions could very well determine the success of the Indian team. India is lucky to have two such bowlers playing in tandem and it is now time to wrap them up in cotton wool until the commencement of the World Cup.