Should it be the Double Y (Yuzi and Yadav)? Or Chahal and Kuldeep? That’s the quandary! I rolled a few names of legendary bowling pairs off my tongue: Waqar and Wasim, Lillee and Thommo, Roberts and Holding, Walsh and Ambrose. Then I tried Double Y and later Chahal and Kuldeep. There was a nice ring to both options, especially Double Y, for ‘why’ is what batsmen around the world would be asking at the very sight of these two ‘terrors’ bowling in tandem.
In a short span – Yuzvendra Chahal has played just 19 ODIs while Kuldeep Yadav has appeared in only 16 – the two have achieved a great deal of success in a format that was designed specifically to smash the daylights out of bowlers, which has spawned comparison with some of the greatest pairs of world cricket.
One Day International field restriction rules were modified (in 2012 and 2015) to ensure that the number of fielders outside the circle was limited to four in the 30 overs between 11th and 40th overs. This put many spinners, particularly finger spinners, out of business.
Already, two new balls, one from each end, had condemned spinners to operate with a hard and minimally scuffed ball. The finger spinner had trouble in gripping the relatively new ball and giving it a real tweak.
International teams tried to circumvent this by getting wrist spinners who were less dependent on fingers, to bowl a bit in ODIs. Thus leg-spinners Adam Zampa, Imran Tahir, Yasir Shah, Shahid Afridi et al were fielded by various countries.
India, though, went with the tried and tested finger spin of Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, with leg-spinners Amit Mishra, Piyush Chawla and others tried intermittently.
It didn’t always work, especially after that fifth fielder in the deep had been taken out of the equation. Opposition batsmen were milking the bowling between the 11th and 40th overs without losing too many wickets. This was proving to be a nuisance whether defending a target or chasing an enhanced one.
India needed bowlers who could be disruptive during those key overs. Chahal was already Virat Kohli’s go-to man in the Indian Premier League (IPL). On the relatively small M Chinnaswamy Stadium outfield, with the cushion of five fielders in the deep, he was an asset for the Royal Challengers Bangalore. He had the temperament of an aggressive fast bowler, was always on the lookout for wickets and importantly, rose to the skipper’s call time and again.
It was natural that Kohli, with his temperament and aspirations, would want such a bowler in ODIs too. The fact that Chahal was a former national level chess player given to out-thinking opponents helped.
Not only was he aggressive, he also sent a loud and clear message that he was not in the business of containment. He wanted nothing less than the batsman’s scalp. He would get him with his subtle variations in spin, loop, line and pace, come what may.
His attitude was a paradigm shift from spinners of yesteryear who looked to restrict the scoring rate, with wickets being a by-product of this process. Chahal was keen on restricting the scoring rate by bagging wickets. It helped that in Kohli he had a skipper with an identical frame of mind.
The icing on the cake was the arrival of another bowler of similar attitude and wrist spin, except that he delivered with the left hand. Now this sort of wrist spin was rarer.
Kuldeep’s Chinaman deiiveries, when he gave them a real tweek was a thing of beauty. The ball would swerve away from the right-hander but on pitching turn back sharply with the attendant nip off the pitch. For good effect, he also possessed a mean, well-disguised googly that fooled any number of batsmen.
Importantly, both bowled slower and the rip they gave the ball was key to the outcome. They had the rare ability to get the ball to dip and many a batman, expecting a half volley, would find too late that they were driving at the ball without getting to the pitch of it.
A good wicket-keeper with fast hands to effect stumpings and efficient catching by fielders in the deep and slips was all that was required to harry batsmen.
Suddenly international batsmen who were expected to dominate the middle overs were being turned inside out. Those with dodgy footwork and inability to play late were being picked off like flies. South Africa at the Centurion was a classic case. They lost a whopping eight wickets to the duo. There was simply no chance of any recovery after that.
The Double Ys or Chahal and Kuldeep, if you please, are backed by statistics that are a captain’s delight. Chahal averages 21.88, has an economy rate of 4.55 and an impressive strike rate of 28.8 for his 34 ODI wickets from 19 matches. The corresponding figures for Kuldeep are as stunning (average: 21.39, economy rate: 4.69, strike rate: 27.3 for his 28 wickets from 16 matches).
In contrast Ashwin averages 32.91, and has an economy rate 4.91 and strike rate 40.1 for his 150 wickets from 111 matches, while Jadeja’s averages 35.87, and has an economy rate of 4.9 and strike rate of 43.9 for his 155 wickets from 136 matches.
Clearly the averages and strike rates of Chahal and Kuldeep put them in a different bracket altogether. How long this will last is of no consequence. For now they are impressively winning matches for India. That’s all that matters!