Even though they are just six years apart, Piyush Chawla (29) and Kuldeep Yadav (23) represent the wrist-spinners’ club of two very different times.
While the former broke into international cricket when leg spin was considered too risky for the limited overs game, the latter is part of an era when wrist-spin is in the ascendancy thanks largely to the changing game and rules that govern the sport.
So it has been heartening to see these two exponents of the difficult art of wrist spin form a deadly combination that has pushed the Kolkata Knight Riders’ into the second Qualifier of the ongoing Indian Premier League.
On Wednesday, as their side defended a modest total of 169 in the Eliminator at the Eden Gardens, the wrist-spinners were at it again – wresting back control from a Rajasthan Royals team that at one point seemed well-placed to chase down the target.
Before the game began, Rajasthan had opted to field on a pitch where the team chasing has won seven out of the eight games.
Rajasthan Royals began their chase well as Ajinkya Rahane and Rahul Tripathi added 47 runs in the first five overs. Well begun, as they say, is half the work done. They were nicely pacing themselves and taking full toll of every loose delivery. Tripathi even smashed the dangerous Sunil Narine for back-to-back sixes in the fifth over.
That’s when Kolkata captain Dinesh Karthik tossed the ball to his most experienced spinner Chawla. The tricked worked right away as Tripathi fell for 20 with Chawla taking an easy catch. With the Powerplay overs dealt with, Kuldeep Yadav was introduced into the attack as spin bowling took over.
However, Rahane found an able partner in Sanju Samson as they began building a partnership. At the halfway mark, Rajasthan were a comfortable 87/1 requiring another 83 from 60 balls. The required run-rate then was 8.30 and very doable by T20 standards.
However, four overs later, Rajasthan needed 61 runs from 36 balls with the required run-rate climbing to over 10 runs per over. The spinners did not pick up wickets but they ensured that the runs were hard to come by for the Rajasthan batsmen. Only one boundary – off Narine – was struck during these four overs as RR’s batsmen came unstuck.
With the run-rate mounting, Rajasthan had no option but to go for their shots. But Rahane fell after the strategic time-out. He ended up hitting the first ball back to Yadav who took the catch. Rahane departed for 46 of 41 balls.
“We started well, but couldn’t get early wickets. The wicket of Rahane was the turning point,” said Yadav after the match.
The next two overs saw Rajasthan score just 10 runs.
With Rajasthan needing 51 runs from 24 balls, Samsom tried to smash Chawla for a six. However, he couldn’t connect it well as Javon Searles took the catch to dismiss him for 50 of 38 balls.
Rajasthan needed 40 runs of the last two overs, which was highly unlikely given their lack of depth in the batting department. Credit to Andre Russell and Prasidh Krishna as well who kept the pressure on Rajasthan after the spinners completed their quota of overs. However, the game was all but over when Samson departed. Yadav ended up with figures of 4-0-18-1 while Chawla finished with 4-0-24-2.
The trio of Narine, Yadav and Chawla have been brilliant for Kolkata this season – bagging 44 wickets amongst themselves. At Eden Gardens alone, they have taken 28 wickets.
It was against Rajasthan Royals, during the group stage of the league that Yadav took his first four-wicket haul of the season. He bagged the wickets of Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler, Rahane and Stuart Binny for 20 runs and also bagged the man of the match award. Chawla, too, is having a brilliant season as he has already picked up 13 wickets compared to his six last year.
However, even before the IPL began, Yadav and Chawla were making inroads in the international and domestic circuit of the game.
Yadav was cementing his spot with the Indian cricket team in South Africa where he picked up 17 wickets in the recently concluded one-day tour. Kuldeep has become a crucial part of Virat Kohli’s plans and his inclusion in the T20I and One-day squad for England proves it.
Chawla, too, had a brilliant domestic season with Gujarat as he picked 32 wickets in six Ranji matches making him the highest wicket-taker for the side. He was ninth on the most wicket takers list in the tournament.
They were also retained by Kolkata during the auction and after 15 games have showed why the team management kept its faith in them.
Chawla now a veteran, broke into the Indian team at the age of 17 and became the second youngest Test debutant for India after Sachin Tendulkar. With the likes of Harbhajan Singh and others around, no captain at the time was ever going to put their chances on a leg spinner during crunch situations. While he was part of squads that won the World Cup and the World T20 he never made a meaningful impact in those successes.
The resurgence of wrist spin has added a fresh lease of life for Chawla. While breaking into the Indian side might be difficult considering one spot has been cemented by Kuldeep, their partnership with KKR has been paying rich dividends.
Just two more games separate KKR from their third title. Expectations will be high from the two wrist spinners. Their performance on Friday against the Sunrisers Hyderabad will prove to be the difference between success and failure for Kolkata.