Thirty-two needed off 24. That was the equation as Royal Challengers Bangalore attempted to chase down 170 against Rajasthan Royals in their Indian Premier League 2022 clash. Sanju Samson played his last ace at a dew-laden Wankhede. Yuzvendra Chahal bowled his final over and gave away only four singles.
Twenty-eight needed off 18. Dinesh Karthik and Shahbaz Ahmed were not flustered. Royal Challengers Bangalore won with five balls to spare as Rajasthan’s pacers were tonked all over the place.
It made for an intriguing watch. Each of Rajasthan’s primary bowlers proved to be expensive on the night. The minimum economy among their three pacers was 8.5 per over. R Ashwin went for 9.8 per over. Chahal, meanwhile, picked up 2/15 in his four overs. Economy? A measly 3.8.
Karthik then spelled out how it was a ploy. Pick the spinner for singles, as the pacers made for easier targets. That RR-RCB game can be classified as an IPL classic. But before Karthik made the night all about his finesse at power hitting, all talk was about Chahal versus RCB.
It is a subject that already pinches Bangalore fans. Social media (mainly Twitter) is rife with this debate over whether Chahal should have been retained. Surprisingly, RCB fans find Mohammed Siraj a better retention bet than someone who has played more than 100 IPL games for their franchise, whilst averaging 17.4 wickets per season.
No, this isn’t about Siraj or his white-ball attributes. It is not even about the Rs 7 crore RCB retained him for, or the fact that they could have very well purchased him back, or found another pacer of a similar mould. Instead, it is about letting go of a leg-spinner who excelled against Chinnaswamy’s batting friendly conditions. It is about letting go of a potent weapon in T20 cricket. It is about letting go of someone who even had an emotional connect with the franchise’s fans, much like Virat Kohli.
In a recent interview with The Times of India, Chahal revealed that Bangalore didn’t even initiate retention conversations. “Mike Hesson (director of cricket) called me and said, listen there are three retentions. I am emotionally attached to RCB. I never thought I would play for another team,” he had said.
It sounds even worse when considered that Rajasthan Royals picked up Chahal for a mere Rs 6.5 crore, and Bangalore didn’t even participate during the bidding. It almost borders on disrespect, and can be classified under “just RCB things that nobody understands”.
Mind you, an IPL retention isn’t a simple one-way street. The concerned player also needs to be on-board to stay back at the respective franchise. The likes of KL Rahul, Rashid Khan, Hardik Pandya and Shreyas Iyer were only too happy to move on from their previous situations. By his own admission though, Chahal would have stayed put if Bangalore had made an offer. Even so, it is now time to move on, and from the leg-spinner’s perspective, it is a potentially liberating move.
Circle back to 2021, before the retention chatter started, Chahal was struggling in the first half of the Covid-hit IPL season. In the first seven games, he had only four wickets at an average of 47.5 and economy of 8.3 per over. It was in keeping with his poor international form prior to the IPL, wherein he took only eight wickets in eight white-ball games. Worryingly, he was smacked at 9.8 per over in six T20Is against both Australia (away) and England (home), and his bowling average fell to 33.71 from 25.33.
The years 2020 and ‘21 were tough across the globe, and different people suffered in varying manners, not just getting sick. For a professional cricketer plying his wares during a global pandemic, it was about jumping from one bio-bubble to another. It is possible that there was some mental impact on Chahal as well, for he is a jovial character by nature.
On reaching UAE for the second leg of IPL 2021, Chahal talked about losing self-belief earlier and how he was on for course-correction. “I am pumped up, the old Yuzi is back,” he claimed in an RCB video-release. The two-month break from never-ending bio-bubbles had worked, and he picked up another 14 wickets in the remaining eight games to finish as the highest wicket-taking spinner in the tournament (seventh overall). His economy for the 2021 IPL season dipped to 7.03 per over, and its impact was most felt in the bowling average – down to 20.77.
However, the damage had been done in between. Chahal was already left out of the 2021 T20 World Cup and despite an October 10 deadline to change the squad, he was not considered. The question to ask here is – did Virat Kohli’s double-exit from IPL and international captaincy have a major role to play in Chahal’s down-curve in 2021? Did it further spill into non-retention at RCB for 2022 as Kohli’s grasp on team affairs waned?
It is an open secret that Kohli wasn’t really enjoying the burden of T20 captaincy given the increased workload and bubble life. A school of thought suggests stagnation in his white-ball leadership style, which then permeated to Chahal’s bowling for RCB. It could also be seen how leg-spin quickly went out of vogue once India exited the 2019 ODI World Cup. Kuldeep Yadav has never been the same bowler, and much similarity is seen in Chahal’s bowling mannerisms until 2021.
Playing for Rajasthan Royals, thus, is a forced move, albeit one that could bear fruit for Chahal. The Rajasthan line-up resembles a fantasy pick of all teams and its management did a stupendous job at the auctions. Within its strategic microcosm, Chahal – a superb yet cheap buy – plays a myriad variation of roles.
He isn’t the strike bowler – that is reserved for Trent Boult and Prasidh Krishna. He can use the new ball, if either proves expensive, but can also be held back as his spin-partner R Ashwin can play the same spin roles. In the last two games against RCB and Lucknow Super Giants, Chahal was held back to bowl at the death (over 17-18). This is now a new facet to his bowling, coming forth at his new team.
After RR’s first four matches in IPL 2022, Chahal’s figures are: 11 wickets, average of 9.45, economy of 6.5, a wicket every 8.7 deliveries (strike-rate), and best figures of 4/41 on Sunday night.
Any debate regarding Chahal’s non-retention was done and dusted when Karthik treated his 17th over with utmost respect. Letting him go was a bad idea, and RCB may regret it for a long time. And their loss seems to be Rajasthan’s gain.