“We lost, but I’m happy I was not bowling today,” said Australian opener Aaron Finch, fours years ago, empathising with bowlers as India chased down a steep target of 202 in the only T20I at Rajkot. The two ODIs have accrued a combined 642 and 532 runs. The only Test featured five hundreds — what better proof of the strip’s inherent friendliness than three Englishmen getting centuries—and the only draw of the five-match series.
But ahead of the second T20I, India’s skipper Virat Kohli needn’t bother about the venue’s reputation. Not least when he has two exceptionally canny bowlers, in Jasprit Bumrah and Yuzvendra Chahal.
Jasprit Bumrah’s gifts are well-documented. But of late, it has been Chahal, with his unconventional trickery and the knack of prising out the opponent’s most destructive batsman, who has been his most trusted short-form bowler. In his shortish career, he has furnished ample proof of his big-scalp hunting trait. In the first T20 of this series, at Kotla, a well-set Tom Latham was just beginning to open up. He confidently shimmied down the track. But Chahal had second-guessed it and bowled a flat googly that beat him all ends up to be stumped.
Batsmen tend to underestimate him; Chahal, in turn, feeds on this assumption. Two months ago, Glenn Maxwell learned it the hard way. He had just belted Kuldeep Yadav for a four and three sixes on the bounce. Chahal then was brutally swept over the square-leg fence. Generally, spinners tend to respond by shortening the length and minimising the flight. But Chahal floated one up more than he generally does and wider of the off-stump. Maxwell reached for it, only for the ball to spin precociously away from him. He eventually miscued the ball to long-on, and snuffed Australia’s last hopes of winning the match.
The remarkable thing about him is that he procures turn without flighting the ball or imparting numerous revvs, which is the conventional wisdom. Also, unlike conventional spinners, he bowls googlies from closer to the stumps, conjuring a difficult angle, especially for left-handed batsmen.
The release points for his leg-break and googly are more or less the same as well.
Ashwani Kumar, the Haryana Cricket Association’s director of coaching, who has been nurturing Chahal for the past 13 years, reckons its his slight frame that makes him unconventional. “Because of his physique, his action is a little different from a conventional leg-spinner. His bowling trajectory is lower. He becomes a bit round-arm while bowling his leg-breaks, which gives him extra turn. He uses both his wrist and fingers,” he tells The Indian Express.
Chahal was called ‘single haddi (bone)’ by his friends because of his frame. But it turned out to be an advantage, because he developed a unique bowling action. But inside the lithe frame is a brain that’s constantly ticking, a reason he out-reads the batsman so spectacularly. “Even in junior cricket, he had this ability. Maybe, it’s natural. With experience, his mind has become sharper,” he says. Maybe, it was his chess background that makes him an astute reader of mind.The presence of an equally shrewd, MS Dhoni, behind the stumps, has benefitted him. At Chepauk, the stump mic caught Dhoni rattling out instructions before every ball.
Like, “Woh maarane waala daal naa, andar yaa baahar koi bhi. Ghumane waala daal ghumane waal (tempt him to hit, incoming or outgoing, anything is fine. Make the ball rip). They’d combined to dismiss Maxwell thrice in five ODIs. Despite his lean frame, he is quite fit, and capable of bowling long spells in the longer versions.
“There’s huge emphasis on fitness in the Haryana teams across age-groups. Our fitness trainer Tejinder Mann and physio Amit Tyagi; they prepare the schedule. Certain parameters are set. Every cricketer goes through the schedule for one-and-a-half hours every day. For the juniors, the fitness level is checked fortnightly. At senior level, we do it monthly. Even during off seasons, young cricketers come to the stadium at Lahli and perform the fitness drills. Every cricketer has his individual fitness programme as well. Chahal has come through this process,” Kumar says.
The upside of Chahal’s strong fitness regime is that he can pick his food menu as per his choice. The 27-year-old likes chicken and his coach’s advice to him is that he should eat “a little more”.
In the current Indian team some mandatory fitness parameters are set. The pass mark on the ‘yo-yo’ scale is 16.1, which is non-negotiable. This has been agreed upon with an eye to become the world’s best fielding side before the 2019 World Cup. Chahal is an integral part of the set-up.
With the rapid strides he’s making, it’s imminent that his name will be in consideration for Tests too. Kumar believes he has the ability to prosper. “Of course he has. He is intelligent and a quick learner. He is working on his flight and variations required for Test cricket,” Chahal’s coach said. But as of now, he’s Kohli most-trusted short-form spinner.
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