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India vs West Indies: Yuzvendra Chahal’s chance to find his mojo back as he closes in on 100 wickets milestone in ODIs

Yuzvendra Chahal is on the verge of achieving a most deserving milestone in the one day international (ODI) format.

The right hand tweaker is one scalp away from a century of wickets in the short form of the game that was for the first time played 51 years ago between Australia and England in Melbourne after the first three days of an Ashes Test was rained off.

The Haryana legspinner, 31, and who has a background as a national level chess player, is one among the few plying the unorthodox and difficult trade in international cricket these days. He has so far played 59 matches and taken 99 wickets at a very thrifty 27.88 and with a strike-rate of 32.19. He has taken two five wicket hauls in his five-year-old career in ODI in which he made his debut against Zimbabwe at Harare in June 2016.

The calendar years from 2017 to 2019 saw him strike it rich, taking 21 wickets in 2017 and 29 apiece in 2018 and 2019. His best is a 6/42 against Australia at Melbourne in January 2019. The pandemic has not given him the leeway to improve his skills and numbers, but without doubt he has been in the frontline of India’s spin attack with the left arm tweaker Kuldeep Yadav.

Yuzvendra Chahal's exclusion from the T20 World Cups squad has come as a surprise for many. AP

File image of Yuzvendra Chahal. AP

Chahal has featured in 40 matches that India won from 2016 to 2021 when a team led by Shikhar Dhawan played a three match series against Sri Lanka in Colombo. He has played against 11 countries in the format and has a double-digit (between 16 to 22) against Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Sri Lanka.

He was one among India’s key bowlers in the 2019 ICC World Cup in England. Chahal took 12 wickets at 36.83, sending down 74 overs. Once the team disbanded the Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja pair after the ICC Champions Trophy final of 2017, the wrist spin duo of Chahal and Yadav have played in 35 matches and have taken 71 wickets, the third best Indian pair after Anil Kumble and Sachin Tendulkar (131 wickets in 167 innings), and Ashwin and Jadeja (128 wickets in 84 innings).

For a steady and reasonable successful spinner, Chahal has missed 44 matches after making his debut.

He has also been part of India’s Twenty20 scheme of things, but he was dropped for last year’s ICC men’s Twenty20 World Cup in the UAE. The selectors chose Rahul Chahar.

Former Mumbai offspinner Kiran Mokashi — he took 147 wickets in ten years of Ranji Trophy — has the following observation to make on Chahal. A keen student of the game and who bowled aplenty to Sachin Tendulkar in the Mumbai Ranji Trophy net sessions, Mokashi said: “The Indian selectors’ thinking about the kind of legspinners required for the UAE type of pitches for the Twenty20 World Cup did not click. Their judgment, that you will require leg spinners bowling at a brisk pace on slow flat pitches and smaller grounds did not come true.”

“First, Varun Chakravarty’s pace was ideal to cart him around as the ball did not grip; moreover the batters judged him to play more of as an offspinner. Leggie Rahul Chahar also could not bowl at an ideal pace to spin the ball. Here is where Chahal, who was part of Twenty20 scheme till mid-2021, would have been an ideal attacking bowler. But he was dropped.”

He continued, “Chahal is more of a conventional leg spinner who has the skill to impart a lot of spin on the ball, as a result of which the ball dips and drifts. His control over different lines, his judgement of bowling at the right pace and flight to different batters is proven. His IPL record is excellent with two five-fors and a six-for in the restricted overs that he bowls.

“He has the heart and brain for an attacking legspinner, all that he needs is the backing of the captain and the team management. Moreover, he doesn’t need abrasive pitches all the time, as his ability to impart rotations and his control over flight and drift makes him an attacking wicket taker needed in white ball competitions. Remember, a wicket-taker more than a restrictive bowler, wins you matches.”

Leg spin and googly variety – discovered by former Middlesex and England bowler with a tennis ball, Bernard James Tindal Bosanquet, in the late 19th or very early 20th century – is a difficult art. The legspinners have so far taken 7,787 wickets in Test cricket, but Chahal has not played even one Test.

Seventeen legspinners have taken over 100 Test wickets, with Shane Warne leading the list with 708 victims. Chahal will be the 14th legspinner to touch the three figure milestone in ODIs. Among the Indian wrist spinners, Kumble has 337 and Kuldeep 107. He will have the luxury of bowling with Kuldeep in the ODI series against the West Indies in Ahmedabad where the surface at the Narendra Modi Stadium will assist the spinners.

He has clean bowled 11 batters, trapped 23 leg before, had 10 batters stumped, had caught 55 caught (43 in the outfield and five by the wicket keeper and seven caught of his own bowling). And will be keen and eager to give a good account of himself leading to the white ball World Cups in Australia in 2022 and India in 2023.

With rookie Ravi Bishnoi being groomed, Chahal has his task cut out. But the immediate matter of interest is which West Indian batter becomes his 100th victim in ODIs. This memorable event for Chahal can happen on 6 February in the first ODI in Ahmedabad. Should he be fielded, which skipper Rohit Sharma is likely to do, it will be Chahal’s 15th match at home. He has taken 22 wickets at home and 77 abroad!

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