Back in the 60s, when the MA Chidambaram Stadium was unfenced, passersby would just drift in for a first-class, or a first-division game, and ask: “VV irukarara (Is VV there)?”. Depending on the answer, they would plan their day — skip work or put aside some domestic chore. For VV — as the former leg-spinner VV Kumar is affectionately called — was a rage those days, more popular than even his contemporary and Test regular S Venkataraghavan.
VV was a classicist’s delight — his lithe frame gliding into the crease, almost diagonally, and the ball released with a prim side-on action. His control was legendary. He played only two Tests, but fervent locals didn’t actually mind it, for they were not robbed of the pleasure of watching their beloved ‘VV’ all season long. In Madras and then Chennai, he became the benchmark to judge the future leg-spinners. Over the years, “not quite good as VV” has been used in the Chepauk stands to describe, among others, Laxman Sivaramakrishnan, Abdul Qadir and even Shane Warne.
It’s safe to expect then that the ‘knowledgeable’ Chennai crowd will come to the stadium armed with their VV yardstick when India face Australia in the first of the five ODI-series beginning here on Sunday. Well, Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal might be classical in the VV mould, nonetheless they are generously gifted wrist-spinners with a bit of unusualness about them.
It even prompted Rohit Sharma to cast them as “mystery spinners”. It’s not a far-fetched allusion, as Yadav is a left-arm wrist-spinner and Chahal has a slightly different action and release, certainly not the prescribed textbook action for leggies. It’s rare for any side to field two wrist-spinners in the same match, but should they both play the first ODI — which is likely after Axar Patel picked up an injury during the football session — it would be the third such occasion in a fortnight. The previous two instances were the last ODI and the one-off T20 against Sri Lanka earlier this month.
The rareness of a wrist-spin collaboration can be primarily attributed to the scantness of wrist spinners themselves, and if they do find two at the same time, teams are generally reluctant to play them in tandem. The similarity of Yadav and Chahal, though, ends in their wrist-spin label. Their stock ball spins in opposite directions, though Chahal relies more on sliders and hardly extracts ripping turn. He’s also brisker and flatter through the air than Yadav. The latter has an unusually smooth action for a chinaman while Chahal has an uncharacteristically jerky one for a leg-spinner. Yadav’s built is, as they call in Kanpur, “healthy”. Chahal is so scrawny that you wouldn’t want to take him to the breezy Marina on a December evening.
The latter aspired to be a Grandmaster, the former dreamt of being Wasim Akram, before his coach’s intervention. They speak different dialects of Hindi — Yadav has a freewheeling accent of the Awadh region and Chahal has a coarse Haryanvi twang. Their careers too have contrasting beginnings — Chahal launchpad was the IPL, his domestic career still remains largely unfulfilled.
We should be make a more generous assessment, as he plays most of his matches on the greenest deck in the country, Lahli, and in the shadow of his domestic captain Amit Mishra. Yadav was a U-19 prodigy who transitioned into the domestic team, and then the national side. Chahal was blooded in last year, during the Zimbabwe series, but Yadav, who made his debut this year, has already played two Tests and as many ODIs as Chahal (7). Despite the latter faring reasonably well in Zimbabwe, Yadav has superseded him on the preference scale in virtually little time.
Both, though, remain grossly relevant in the larger scheme: the World Cup in England, for which they are groomed with the perceivable wisdom that wrist spinners could buy more wickets than finger spinners. They fit straight into Kolhi’s no-holds-barred aggression template, which he again reiterated on Saturday. “You can have as many dot balls as you want but if you can’t pick up wickets, you can go for 10-12 runs an over. They are in a zone where they don’t mind getting hit as long as they pick up 3-4 wickets,” Kohli emphasised. This is a pleasant snap from seeing the finger-spinners rifling through the overs and putting the squeeze in the middle overs.
The Australians needn’t be briefed on the Indian spinners. Yadav has already burnt them once in Dharamsala. To help neutralise him, their spin consultant Sridharan Sriram sent an SOS to Kerala’s chinaman KK Jiyas, who bowled extensively at the nets. Australian skipper Steve Smith feels that IPL has familiarised them with Yadav after the Dharamsala joust.
“A few of the guys played against him in the IPL and saw what he did in Sri Lanka as well. He can be difficult to pick at times and you have to watch really closely. Hopefully, we can put him under pressure early in his spell and try and take him for as many as we can,” he reckons. Through IPL, they have familiarised enough with Chahal as well. But if their recent failings against anyone who can even faintly turn the ball is an indication, Chahal and Yadav can pile ample misery on them. The old-timers at Chepauk would certainly hope so. They can dust up the nostalgia and dismiss the are-they-good-enough debates with the same old snide. “Not quite as good as VV”.
Jadeja replaces injured axar
Left-arm spinner Axar Patel was ruled out of India’s first three ODIs against Australia, starting here on Sunday, after spraining his left ankle during practice session, and Ravindra Jadeja has been named as his replacement. Axar suffered the injury while playing football and the BCCI said. “The selection panel has named Ravindra Jadeja as the replacement for Axar Patel in the team for the first three ODIs in the five-match series against Australia starting tomorrow in MA Chidambaram Stadium,” the BCCI said. Axar sprained his left ankle during a practice session and has been advised rest,” it added.
India v Australia: First ODI, live on Star Sports 1 — 1:20 pm