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Feature

Is Yuzvendra Chahal in need of a plan B?

He is an old-school legspinner, relying on flight and dip, but batters are starting to get wise to that

Shashank Kishore
Shashank Kishore
05-Sep-2022
This time last year, ahead of the T20 World Cup in UAE, Yuzvendra Chahal found himself at a crossroads. The selectors had lost faith in his loopy legbreaks. Pace on the ball became the new mantra. For perhaps the only time in his tenure, chief selector Chetan Sharma explained the reasons behind a player's non-selection. India "needed a spinner who can find grip and deliver with slightly more speed." They dialled Rahul Chahar.
Twelve months on, Chahar is on the sidelines and Chahal is back to being the lead spinner once again, following a sensational IPL where he topped the charts with 27 wickets in 17 matches. He outperformed fellow legspinners Wanindu Hasaranga and Rashid Khan. In fact, Chahal's performance had been one of the contributing factors in Rajasthan Royals making an inspired run to the final.
Now, as India build towards this year's T20 World Cup, Chahal has endured a slight dip again, on the very shores where he was ignored. Three matches at the Asia Cup have brought a solitary wicket at an economy rate of 7.75 and strike rate of 93. The economy isn't particularly worrisome, the lack of wickets is. And with Chahal, when he's in form, he picks them up in bunches.
One of the reasons for the dip has been his predictability. On Sunday, in India's Super 4 clash against Pakistan, Chahal bowled 16 deliveries on a length. But because he was bowling it slower through the air, the batters found it easy to play him off the back foot and access the square boundaries, one of which was barely 60 metres.
Chahal also struggled to land them, and on two occasions when he tried to slow it down even further, probably to tempt the batter into stepping out, he ended up bowling full tosses that were carted for boundaries.
Cheteshwar Pujara touched upon Chahal's pace on ESPNcricinfo's T20 Time:Out show.
"What I feel is that he's a lot slower through the air which has worked for him, but he needs to vary his pace a bit more," he said. "On slow pitches, I think he needs to bowl a bit quicker. Not every ball, but he needs to vary that pace. He's a little predictable, his lines are quite [wide] outside off stump and many batters are predicting that. They're not stepping out against him and waiting for him to bowl that line outside off. I feel that if he can vary his pace a bit against right-handers, he'll be more effective."
Chahal wasn't the only legspinner India played on Sunday. There was also Ravi Bishnoi, who is diametrically opposite in the manner that he operates. Where Chahal relies on flight and dip, Bishnoi relies on being quick and skiddy. It was the quick and skiddy bowler that India called on to bowl a couple of tough overs - one in the powerplay and another at the death.
Are these alarming signs for Chahal? Not according to Robin Uthappa. "He's been going through a tournament where he hasn't been bowling well, I don't think any less of him as a bowler, the skills are still there. It's just a matter of getting a wicket. Sometimes in a tournament like this, you just want to get that one breakthrough to get your juices flowing. He's not far away.
"Yes, he's predictable in the sense that when he bowls slower, when people start going after him, he bowls even slower. So like Puji [Cheteshwar Pujara] said, when you're out of form what do you do? You need to be ahead of your curve and have variations within your game.
"For a batter, it could be 'I have two-three shots up my sleeve. I feel like I can throw that onto the opposition who are predicting what I'm doing'. Similarly, maybe a variation of pace could be useful for Yuzi at this point in time, bowling slightly quicker through the air, a bit more flippers that oppositions don't really anticipate."
Earlier in the year, in the home series against South Africa, Chahal went through a similar patch where his apparent struggles threw up questions over his effectiveness, only for him to completely shred those perceptions with a match-winning haul of 3 for 20 to keep India alive. Tuesday's game at the Asia Cup carries even greater significance. India will hope their ace legspinner can bounce back once again.

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo