India has a long history of producing wrist spinners. From Subhash Gupte to B Chandrasekhar and Anil Kumble, the list includes some of the best bowlers the world has seen.

As the game evolved and the limited overs formats became more relevant, the role of the wrist spinner started fading. Saving runs in the middle overs became a norm.

It is not to say that India were ever averse to the concept of wrist spin. Narendra Hirani, Laxman Shivaramakrishanan, Amit Mishra, Piyush Chawla and Karn Sharma have all had their chances however most of them could not cement their place in the Indian side.

Wrist spin, at its core, is a difficult art to master. It involves generating spin from the flick of the wirst and fingers, the chances of a bad delivery are very high when a wrist spinner is operating. This risk of leaking runs has dissuaded many captains in the yesteryears from utilising wrist spinners in ODIs.

However, with new rules and field restrictions being implemented, the batting side now has the advantage of going on the offensive in the middle overs. It also leads to wicket-taking opportunities. These changes have meant that wrist-spinners would still be effective in the limited-overs format.

Learning from mistakes

India skipper Virat Kohli, for one, has embraced the concept of wrist spin whole-heartedly. Since India’s defeat in the ICC Champions Trophy final against Pakistan in England, the team has seen a clear change in strategy. Finger spinners R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja were smashed around the park in that game. Since then, wrist spinners Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav have been given the preference as Ashwin and Jadeja remain restricted to the longer format.

That the 2019 World Cup will be played in England, only makes the changes more relevant.

Wrist spinner use their ring finger and palm to generate spin. With the palm, bowlers can hit the deck hard. On pitches like England and South Africa, where the wickets are traditionally hard, this plays to the wrist-spinners’ advantage.

It was this factor that played a major role in India’s two wins over South Africa at Durban and Centurion in this past week. Chahal and Kuldeep ran through the Proteas bowling line up in the middle overs in both games.

“We knew the wickets would be hard and dry and knew our wrist spinners can get it to turn anywhere,” Kohli said after India’s nine-wicket win in Centurion on Sunday.

It was Australia’s legendary spinner Shane Warne, arguably one of the biggest proponents of wrist spin, who took the cricketing world by storm with his wicket-taking prowess. His ability to take wickets in almost all conditions had astounded many. Bowling on hard wickets in Australia and England or the dust bowls in India, Warne was always in his element.


That India fields not one, but two wrist spinners, is testament to the revival of this art in the limited-overs sphere of world cricket.

That Chahal and Kuldeep differ in their bowling style only adds to their intrigue.

“The tough thing is you are playing against two wrist spinners, and not a lot of players have played against. It does take time to get used to their change-ups and their variations,” lamented South Africa batting coach Dale Benkenstein after his side folded for 118, their lowest-ever score at home.

Chahal, a traditional leg-break bowler, chooses to bowl flat, while Kuldeep - a chinaman spinner - gives the ball more air and looks to deceive the batsman with dip and alterations in pace.

On Sunday, the duo bowled exceptionally well in tandem. Chahal took five wickets, the best-ever figures for a spinner in South Africa, a land known more for its pacer friendly wickets. Chahal and Kuldeep, though, adopted a different strategy. They bowled slower than usual.

“Dheere Dheere,” MS Dhoni kept shouting from behind the stumps whenever one of the two got the ball.

“Their spinners are very good, obviously. Earlier, Anil Kumble was the one who could really spin the ball away from the bat. He bowled pretty quick and the ball would come on to the bat. But these guys (Chahal and Yadav) are a lot slower,” Benkenstein said.

That this pair has found the means to trouble batsmen on hard wickets is a boon for India considering the World Cup in England is just a year away.

India’s pace battery has amply showcased their ability to deliver in almost all conditions. Spin, which has always been India’s premier weapon, was a bit of a worry when it came to overseas conditions. Ashwin and Jadeja’s ineffectiveness during the Champions Trophy only made it more pressing.

In Chahal and Kuldeep, India seem to have found a perfect solution. With more than a year left for the World Cup, it gives the team management ample time to fine tune their skills and make them battle ready in time for the trip to England.