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Posted at: May 19, 2019, 7:17 AM; last updated: May 19, 2019, 8:08 PM (IST)

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On dry wickets in UK, leggie Yuzvendra Chahal would be vital to Kohli’s plans of bringing back the trophy to India

Gaurav Kanthwal

The ongoing series between Pakistan and England is pointing to high-scoring matches in the upcoming ODI World Cup in England and Wales. There is a high probability that the weather will remain dry and, therefore, the pitches spin-friendly. This is contrary to the conventional wisdom that the wickets in England are seamer-friendly.

No surprise then that Adil Rashid, a leg-spinner in the English team, is their second-highest wicket-taker at home in the last two years, with 35 wickets in 22 ODIs, second by only one wicket to Liam Plunkett’s 36 wickets. Another spinner, Moeen Ali, is their third-highest wicket-taker, with 20 in 22 matches. Clearly, spinners are going to play a crucial role in the ODI World Cup.

The current Indian team is gifted with a remarkable pair of wrist-spinners — chinaman Kuldeep Yadav and leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal. The two were instrumental in India winning ODI series in Australia and South Africa recently. Since their debut in June 2016, the pair has scalped 159 wickets in just 45 matches. But the World Cup has a different feel to it and Chahal is raring to play at the biggest tournament of his career. “Really excited, it will be my first World Cup. Everyone wants to be part of the World Cup to play for the country,” he said.

Consistent performance

Chahal has been remarkable with his consistency, both home and away. He has had some sensational successes, taking 6/25 against England in Bengaluru (February 2017) in a T20 game, the best for an Indian in the shortest format of the game. In January this year, Chahal bagged 6/42 against Australia at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in the third ODI to help India score a historic win. The 28-year-old became the first spinner to take a six-wicket haul in ODIs in Australia. In the 2019 IPL, he bagged 18 wickets in 14 matches at an economy rate of 7.82.

Depending on the nature of the pitches during the World Cup, Chahal’s role as an attacking leg-spinner in the middle overs will shuffle from restricting the flow of runs to going for the wickets. Chahal said, “Last year when we played in England, the wicket was slow so we have prepared accordingly but can only decide once we reach there.”

His biggest strength as a leg-spinner is his ability to bowl consistently outside the line of batsman’s hitting arc, which explains his miserly economy rate. With an ability to build pressure on batsmen for runs, Chahal also has the guile to fox batsmen with subtle variations in pace, spin and line.

Kohli’s support

Chahal made his ODI debut under Mahendra Singh Dhoni, but it’s clear that Dhoni was less keen about wrist-spinners than his successor, Virat Kohli. Under Kohli, Chahal has picked up 51 wickets in 28 ODIs, and another 15 in 10 ODIs captained by Rohit Sharma. But Dhoni’s ability to read the game and the wicket is a big help to him and Yadav, believes Chahal. “Mahi bhai (MS Dhoni) has helped a lot,” he said. “He tells us how a wicket will play and so it helps us figure things out quickly instead of wasting overs on trying to understand the wicket. So that has been a big plus point for both me and Kuldeep Yadav.”

The origins of Kohli’s faith in Chahal can be traced to them being teammates in the IPL team Royal Challengers Bangalore, for whom Chahal has played six years in a row from 2014 and has picked up exactly 100 wickets. “Of course, it’s going to be our main strength (the wrist-spin duo of Kuldeep and Chahal),” Kohli said recently about the duo’s role in the World Cup. “We are going to play one team at one time. It’s not like a bilateral series where they can figure the variations out and come back in the next game... They are taking wickets in the middle overs. That’s something we were lacking for a long, long time before.”


Yuzvendra Chahal trivia

  • Yuzvendra Chahal may not seem much like a chess genius, but he was a national level chess player and even represented India at Asian and World U-12 Junior Championships
  • Chahal’s parents had got him to take up chess as they didn’t want him to get into bad company! He won the national Under-12 title in Kolkata in 2002, and also represented India at the Asian and World Junior Championship. He’s the only person to represent India in chess and cricket
  • Chahal made his IPL debut in 2013 for MI, but he played only one match for them. He was picked up by RCB in 2014, and he’s taken 100 wickets for the team in six seasons
  • Chahal is a keen about football too, and he’s Real Madrid supporter. His favourite from the world of movies is Katrina Kaif
  • Chahal is an easy-going, fun-loving guy and is known as a prankster. He also loves to interview his teammates on camera and share them online
Factfile

Age: 28 years 300 days Born in: Jind, Haryana
Major teams: India, Haryana, MI, RCB

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