Yuzvendra Chahal and Washington Sundar made key contributions as India returned to winning ways in One-day International cricket with a six-wicket victory against West Indies on Sunday.

India got swept in the ODI series in South Africa recently and one of the main reasons for that was the inability of their spinners to create any real impact in the middle overs. India’s full-time spinners bowled a total of 59 overs across the three matches and managed to pick just three wickets in total.

In the first ODI against West Indies in Ahmedabad, India went in with a new spin combination. With Ashwin Ravichandran and Jayant Yadav – who featured in the South Africa ODIs – out of the squad, India opted for Chahal and Washington as the frontline spinners.

And the change worked well, with the duo running through the West Indies middle order to set up the win.

Washington was returning to international cricket after nearly a year. And what may come as a surprise to many, he was featuring in just his second ODI despite making his India debut back in 2017. The past six months had been particularly tough for him. A finger injury forced him to miss the T20 World Cup before Covid-19 ruled him out of the South Africa tour.

But the off-spinner wasted little time in finding his rhythm on Sunday. He has often said that he relishes the opportunity of bowling in the powerplay and captain Rohit Sharma brought him into the attack in the eighth over itself.

West Indies were starting to build a partnership after losing Shai Hope early but they were pegged back as Washington struck twice in his third over to remove both the set batters.

First, he made good use of the turn, on offer, by bowling a slower delivery that gripped into the surface and got the leading edge of Brandon King’s bat. Four balls later, he bowled a flatter delivery that turned a bit and trapped the left-handed Darren Bravo in front.

Then, it was the turn of Chahal to deliver a game-changing double-wicket over. The leg-spinner had a tough time in South Africa and admitted after the match on Sunday that he studied the footage from the series to try and improve.

Chahal was the last of the five Indian bowlers to join the attack (in the 20th over), but all it took were nine deliveries from him to make the West Indies’ middle-order crumble.

Just as the highly-rated Nicholas Pooran was starting to look dangerous, the leg-spinner struck him in front to end a 26-run partnership. With the following delivery, he cleaned up skipper Kieron Pollard thanks to a brilliant googly. And in his next over, he bowled a wonderful leg-break to get Shamarh Brooks’ outside edge.

West Indies eventually managed to stitch together one good partnership, thanks to Jason Holder and Fabian Allen, but that too was broken by spin as Washington grabbed the return catch offered by Allen.

Washington returned with figures of 3/30 from nine overs and Chahal with 4/49 from 9.5 overs. The most impressive aspect of their spells was the aggression… getting wickets seemed to be their sole aim. It was their efforts that led to West Indies being bowled out for 176, with India later chasing down the target in 28 overs.

Chahal was declared the player of the match and he was gracious in the presentation ceremony. The senior spinner mentioned Washington’s name a couple of times and admitted he benefitted from the good work done by his partner.

“Washi struck twice in an over so we knew the pressure was on them,” said Chahal.

“My job was to sustain that pressure. Got the feeling watching Washi bowl that the ball was gripping. Had a chat with Rohit and Virat and they said the pace is important. My thought was that if it’s turning at pace, keep doing it. I threw in a slower one here and there as a variation.”

On his part, Washington too acknowledged the importance of bowling well in tandem.

“To be able to bowl in partnerships is very important,” he said in the post-match press conference.

“To understand what the other bowler is trying to do – if he is going for wickets you can probably keep things tight from your end. You should have that kind of understanding and awareness. The team management and captain always ensure we’re well aware of this. The moment we’re aware of the situation and know exactly what needs to be done then execution is all that matters.”

This is just the beginning of Sharma’s stint as full-time ODI captain and there’s a long journey to be made... building up to the 2023 World Cup. But the start on Sunday was promising. In the leg spin-off spin combination of Chahal and Washington, India could find the much-needed wicket-taking option for the middle overs and indeed the first powerplay as well.