Post the loss against England, the Bangladesh game was a first instance where Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal didn’t take the field together in this 2019 Cricket World Cup.
It was worrying on two counts – one, this pairing has featured together in 34 of 53 ODIs India played since September 2017. Saying this was the earliest fruit of the great World Cup experimentation would be right.
And two, despite qualification for the semi-finals, India didn’t revert to this spin pairing against Sri Lanka in Leeds, instead resting Chahal altogether and re-introducing Yadav into the attack with a new partner.
Enter Ravindra Jadeja.
Between August 2017 and August 2018, Jadeja didn’t get to play a single ODI. Even then, he was never completely out of reckoning, as seen from his inclusion for the 2018 Asia Cup. It was a pivotal moment for the spin all-rounder – never mind that the wrist-spin pair had confirmed their spots for the World Cup – he was still in contention as the team management were yet to decide upon the final combination.
Ten months after returning to India’s ODI fold then, Jadeja featured in this World Cup. Just like for the spinner back in September, Saturday was an important marker for the team management. As Jadeja combined with Yadav one game before the all-important semi-final, the question needed to be asked – has India’s best spin combination changed?
The answer to this question can be argued in two ways. The first is to be found emanating from the wrist-spin duo. Since September 2017, India won 24 of the 34 ODIs Chahal-Yadav featured in. They maintained their winning ratio during this World Cup as well. India won five of the six games they featured in here, and this is where that loss against England stands out.
Over the last two years, Chahal-Yadav had a serious impact across the world, and results back them up. Whether at home, or across Sri Lanka, Australia, South Africa, the UAE and New Zealand, they helped India win series in a canter. Herein comes an anomaly – that 2-1 loss to England during the 2018 summer tour. Chahal picked up only two wickets in those three matches, and his strike-rate shot up to 90.0 as compared to a career strike-rate of 30.8. He responded by bowling within himself, maintaining a proper economy rate of 4.5, lower than his career-average 5.04.
Yadav had a great first game at Nottingham, picking up 6-25. He picked up another three wickets in the second game, but went for 6.8/over. The English batsmen had started attacking him, and the response didn’t come. In the third match, Yadav went wicket-less – 0-55 from ten overs as England came from behind to take the series. If we take that first game out, his economy shoots up to 6.15 from career-average 4.95 and strike-rate too, 40.0 from 29.0.
Cynics would argue that a short bilateral series doesn’t mean much. They would be wrong – expectedly England attacked Chahal-Yadav in that Birmingham game, taking 1-160 from their 20 overs. Economy and strike-rates went flying out of the window. That the short boundary hampered India’s plans is of little consequence, and it is telling that the duo haven’t played together in two matches since.
Even more telling is the fact that Chahal played as the lone spinner against Bangladesh – a game India needed to win to confirm qualification. In that Kohli obviously trusts Chahal more – he has variations as opposed to Yadav’s chutzpah, but a similar trait of adventurism when it comes to taking a hit. But Chahal boasts more patience than his colleague, and has that vital mode of bowling restrictively when the going gets tough.
Yadav, alternately, has this propensity to get lost in the latter half of any series. Turn back the pages – that England series is not a standalone example. In January earlier this year, he didn’t play in the third ODI (the series’ finale) at Melbourne as Kohli went on to confess post-match that perhaps the Australian line-up was reading him well. Later on that same tour in New Zealand, Yadav picked up eight wickets in the first two matches, then went wicket-less in the next two, before being left out at Wellington (where Chahal was the lone spinner again).
Now, track this World Cup – both took a hit against England. Australia, at the Oval, was the only game where they were expensive prior to the England clash. Yet, Chahal produced two wickets in that game, bowling a restrictive spell in the middle, while Yadav went wicket-less. Barring the South Africa game, where Chahal picked four wickets, both have had similar returns – Chahal’s seven wickets to Yadav’s five in six matches each.
It then comes down to who the skipper trusts more when the opposition goes for leather. As such, when Yadav paired up with Jadeja against Sri Lanka at Headingley, it almost seemed like a shoot out between the two for a potential spot in the semi-finals.
Thing though is, Jadeja’s spin ability isn’t the only factor going in his favour.
“I can fulfil the all rounder slot well because I have done it in the past. It isn’t anything new to me. Maybe some day if I do well, I will be back playing all three formats of the game soon enough,” Jadeja had said after scoring a half-century and picking seven wickets in the fifth Test against England last year.
Two weeks after that performance, he was back playing in the Asia Cup as – and this is important – replacement for the injured Hardik Pandya. Clearly, the management didn’t see a second spinner in Jadeja; they wanted the all-rounder instead.
He is not your typical all-rounder though, is he? An ODI batting averages of 29.92 and a bowling average of 35.91; a strike-rate of 84.23 lower down the order and an economy of 4.87/over; add 100/100 for fielding however. Sanjay Manjrekar was right – he is your quintessential ‘bits-and-pieces’ player. Instead of attacking him on Twitter, Jadeja should wear that as a badge of honour.
For, this very quality – of bring all three aspects to the table – is why he is in with a better shot of playing the semi-final (and possibly final) ahead of Yadav. England’s hard-hitting at Edgbaston woke up the Indian team management to the benefits of playing three pacers on wickets that progressively slows down during the game. Add to it, Pandya’s ability to send down full ten overs, plus Chahal, the bowling attack is done.
What is needed then is balance – in that batting line-up and back-up bowling options should plan A fail. Kedar Jadhav doesn’t provide that anymore – he has bowled two overs in the last five games he played. Dinesh Karthik doesn’t even bowl, and jury is out on the kind of impact he can make facing 10-12 balls late in the death. Meanwhile, Jadeja bats, bowls and fields. He could bring balance not only to India’s playing eleven in the knock outs but also restructure their faltering spin attack.
At this business end then, starting with New Zealand on Tuesday, could Kohli really look beyond his wrist-spin twins?