Yuzvendra Chahal could be one of India's big gains this IPL
“Slow bowling is the most speculative and venturesome of all cricket’s activities,” writes Gideon Haigh in his book On Warne. “[And] of all slow bowling’s variants, leg spin is the most enchanting, frustrating and confounding,” he further adds.
It’s not in the repertoire of the majority, but the ones who’ve taken to the craft pursue it despite the graceless action that often comes with it, for it is the bewilderment caused at the batsman’s end that is a source of gratification. A few leg-spinners release the red leather with an effortless action, though, and Yuzvendra Chahal, albeit not in Shane Warne’s class of elegance, certainly belongs to that bracket.
Despite the tight leash on the number of opportunities before Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) picked him up for Rs. 10 Lakh — he was a part of Mumbai Indians’ camp earlier, where his chances were stifled — Chahal’s assertive leg-spin generated some buzz in India’s domestic scene in the last couple of years. On Tuesday, during RCB’s home fixture against the Delhi Daredevils (DD), it provided a glimpse of the reason behind those murmurs.
It was coined ‘ball of this season’s Indian Premier League (IPL)’ by pundits viewing from the confines of the commentary box and also elsewhere. Kevin Pietersen, one of the most mentioned names prior to the commencement of the tournament, and rightly so for the annihilation he can let loose with his wizardly willow, and whose defences started to look impregnable during the second half of his innings, marched down the crease to hoick young Chahal out of the M. Chinnaswamy stadium, only to be bamboozled by the vicious, orthodox leg-spin that had him stumped against the run of play. After a brief grimace, Pietersen couldn’t help but nod his appreciation on the way back. The dismissal was a classic case of David slaying Goliath.
The fact that a relatively novice bowler disconcerted an established batsman wasn’t as intriguing as the circumstances under which the feat was etched. Deviating from the norm this season, it was Chahal who was thwacked to most corners of the ground amidst a miserly start from the other bowlers during the game against DD. With a pull over deep midwicket and a couple of polished drives, Pietersen was starting to threaten when Chahal, despite the bludgeoning, hardly refrained from tossing the ball up and giving it a good rip. It can be said with conviction that not just leg-spinners, but a sizeable chunk of slower bowlers would harbour second thoughts of going through with it.
Nonetheless, Chahal had a captain in Virat Kohli who propped him with positive intent. “It’s important not to panic [despite getting hit for sixes] and this time I told Chahal to back himself,” said Kohli during the post-match presentation after RCB beat DD. It could be a factor why Chahal has been splendid thus far in the IPL, and perhaps why other slower bowlers, who are bereft of a captain’s calming influence, go on the defensive by bowling flatter or on the pads the moment they are taken for a few. Case in point, the difference in Amit Mishra’s approach under Mahendra Singh Dhoni (also a skipper who backs his spinners to the hilt despite a leak) during India’s World T20 campaign, and now under Shikhar Dhawan’s inexperienced leadership for Sunrisers Hyderabad, is evident.
A captain’s backing, though, should be a minor factor, for Chahal has turned up and meted out brilliance right from the first game. He credits Anil Kumble, his mentor for a brief period when he was roped in to play for the Mumbai Indians, for a bolstered reserve. On helpful tracks, when other RCB bowlers did a decent job, Chahal performed a notch above. On difficult days — when Kings XI Punjab’s David Miller took most of Bangalore’s attack to the launderette, for example — he registered figures of 4-0-23-2 and was responsible for the scalps of Virender Sehwag and Miller himself. With 12 wickets thus far in this tournament, Chahal is also the most economical spinner (6.48) marginally behind seasoned players Harbhajan Singh (6.31) and Sunil Narine (6.36). It brings to fore the potential 23-year-old Chahal houses. By usurping Pietersen’s wicket, he also proved that he was not one to be bogged down by a bad day.
It’d be naïve to draw long-term conclusions based on IPL performances, agreed, but it would be a boon if Chahal were to don the Indian colours in the shortest, if not the shorter, format of the game, especially on helpful Indian turfs, where playing three spinners is slowly inching towards being a default formation. Amit Mishra, aged 31, is currently a viable option, no doubt, but his frailties during crunch fixtures have surfaced recently. If ever the selectors look for an apt replacement, one hopes this IPL outing of Chahal’s is not obscured.