As they strolled back to the dressing room, orchestrating a collapse least untoward from the Sri Lankans of late, Kuldeep Yadav’s arms were firmly wrapped around Yuzvendra Chahal’s neck, like two close chums sneaking home unsuspectingly after pulling a prank on their friends. Chahal tried to wriggle out of the embrace, but Yadav wouldn’t, even as they giggled and chirped their way into the change room, occasionally pausing and posing for the photographers, each time flashing their full set of teeth.
The warm camaraderie was not just bound by the immediacy of the combined effort that saw the tourists stumble from 160/2 to 215 all out, each equally sharing the exploits with three wickets, but more of a fraternal bond. While hunting-in-pairs is much romanticised in the sport, not all of them, not even the best of them, could vouch that they were/are the thickest of friends. This makes their bonding even more remarkable, for they are not just a pair operating together, but direct rivals for a spot in the eleven.
After all, skippers are usually reluctant to field two wrist spinners together —even though one is a leggie and the other a chinaman — especially when there’s the alternative of left-arm spinners and off-spinners. At least in the shorter forms, wherein skippers prefer a container-aggressor jugglery, two of the wrist spin variety are deemed surplus. A reason perhaps Virat Kohli prefers Chahal with Axar Patel or Rohit’s impulsion to blood in the off-spinning all-rounder Washington Sundar in Mohali. But for Sundar’s bout of fever, Yadav would have warmed the bench for the decider as well.
It thus necessitated Rohit to play both the wrist spinners, just the seventh time they’d featured together. On a bad afternoon, they risked runs, for both have the tendency to feed boundary balls. But on a good afternoon, they give you all the edge-of-the-seat thrills and theatrics wrist spinners bring. And, of course, the wickets.
On Sunday, they oscillated between their best and worst worlds. Upul Tharanga was brutal on Chahal, smacking him for three sixes. Sri Lanka, at this stage, were motoring along at around six runs an over – they were 160/2 in 27 overs. By conventional logic, teams double their score in the last 20-25 overs. A 320-score would have ratcheted up the pressure during the chase.
At this juncture, a stifler of the Sundar-Axar variety would have, at their best, put the brakes on the scoring, piled on dots and singles. But dots and singles don’t please the ilk of Chahal and Yadav. Purchasing wickets is the soul of their craft; they sense an opportunity when the opposition batsmen are rampaging. So Yadav was unhindered, and straightaway tossed the first delivery of a new over to Tharanga. The latter instinctively thrust forward on the drive, but Yadav had just shortened his length by a fraction. It was his wrong’un that broke away a tad, drew Tharanga out of the crease, making him reach for the ball and eventually beat him for MS Dhoni to effect a typically lightening stumping. Sri Lanka could add just 55 more runs to their total, a score too meek on a flatbed that India completed the chase in 32.1 overs, with Shikhar Dhawan wheeling away to another limited-over century.
As much as the collapse, it was the way the Indian wrist spinners hatched it that made an absorbing watch. Yadav uninhibitedly flighted the ball, varied his length and angles, slipped in the wrong’uns and skidders. Chahal repeatedly spun the ball away — it’s astonishing how he manages to bargain ripping turn despite not flighting the ball like conventional leggies — and mixed up his length and speed. Massive side-spin devoured Angelo Mathews.
The googly nailed Thisara Perera in front. Kuldeep undid Niroshan Dickwella, who has scythed him for a brace of boundaries inside three balls, with a faster, shorter delivery. It was too much for the Sri Lankan batsmen, usually competent players of spin, to decode this wonderful harmony of wrist-spin bowling at its elemental, contrasting best.
Through it all shone their affinity. Between the overs, they could be seen lost in sombre conversations. During the press conference in Visakhapatnam, they were likened to Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja in Tests. Chahal, wearing that amused smile of his, quipped: “Ashwin and Jadeja have done so much in the last 5-6 years. We have played only for four-five series. It is unfair to compare myself and Kuldeep with them.” The comparison seems preposterous, but if they continue harmonising such collapses in collusion, they would be romanticised as the most unique of all bowling pairs in this format.