IND v WI: Yuzvendra Chahal, the leg-spin philomath

After a lacklustre performance in South Africa, Chahal didn’t hesitate to consult Rohit Sharma and Paras Mhambrey about ways to improve. It clearly helped as he reaped a rich haul in the first ODI.

Yuzvendra Chahal took four wickets for 49 runs in the first ODI against West Indies in Ahmedabad.   -  PTI

It was about 9 pm on September 8, 2021. Indian fans were waiting for the BCCI to announce the squad for the T20 World Cup and Yuzvendra Chahal, too, was anxious in anticipation.

The selection days are usually like the declaration of results of the board examinations, and after having played for so many years for India, Chahal has a fair idea of it.

It was dinner time for the family and Chahal thought that he would finish his meal once the squad was announced. But that night, the spinner could not eat much as the selectors decided to look beyond him for the T20 World Cup squad to include Rahul Chahar. One of the top Indian spinners was not even considered for the final 15, and Chahal did not quite believe it.

Chahal’s recent revelation in the RCB Podcast only explains what the spinner went through at that time. The second leg of the Indian Premier League was about to begin in the United Arab Emirates and the leg-spinner was gearing up for a good season. But this snub came as a shock for him.

Cut to February 6, 2022.

India played its 1000th ODI that day against the West Indies at the Narendra Modi Stadium. The contest marked a milestone for Chahal, too, as he entered the 100-wicket club in ODIs. Pairing with Washington Sundar, Chahal grabbed four wickets to put the West Indies batters on the mat as India won by six wickets.

The last few months have been challenging for the 31-year-old and he was happy to have made an impact against the West Indies. Soon after the T20 World Cup snub, Chahal finished his IPL 2021 campaign with 18 wickets and was called back for the home series in November last year against New Zealand, where he scalped a lone wicket. And after that, playing for Haryana in the Vijay Hazare Trophy, Chahal grabbed 14 wickets, which earned him a berth for the ODIs against South Africa.

In overseas conditions, however, Chahal could pick up only two wickets in three white-ball matches as India failed to take crucial wickets in the middle-overs.

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“When I came back from South Africa, I watched each of my games three or four times to see where I was missing,” Chahal said after Sunday’s fixture.

“I spoke to Rohit (Sharma) bhaiyya also after coming back and with Paras Mhambrey sir, our bowling coach. I worked on where I felt I was missing there…”

Bowling according to the pitch

And those learnings clearly helped as Chahal started the ODI series with a bang. But then, he admits that it is not quite easy to bowl on slow surfaces. “I realised that my usual slower pace won’t work, because the quicker balls were spinning. I changed my line also, made it more middle and off. I bowl according to the pitch. I knew that here, the batters would find it easy to hit if I slowed it up. So I continued bowling quicker. You can bowl the odd slower one for variation…”

Having been in the circuit for years, Chahal understands that it is important to read the situation and execute plans accordingly. And that’s why he took suggestions from both Kohli and Rohit on how to trick a batter.

“When I saw Washi’s (Washington) spell, I knew that the ball is turning on this pitch so I can flight the ball a bit. On these kinds of pitches, even if you flight the ball, it’s not that easy to hit down the ground. I spoke to Rohit bhai, Virat bhaiyya, and realised that pace is important on this wicket,” he said.

As West Indies captain Kieron Pollard took strike, Kohli, who was at leg slip, had a word of advice for Chahal. “Ulta wala daal... bindaas daal (bowl the wrong one),” he told Chahal and a flighted googly saw Pollard getting an inside back onto his stumps.

As the Indian team celebrated, it was also Chahal’s moment of being in the sun, after some dark, gloomy days.

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