Yuzvendra Chahal knows all about waiting for his turn. For close to five years he was the third preferred spinner for Haryana behind Amit Mishra and Jayant Yadav. In 2011, after being signed up by the Mumbai Indians in the Indian Premier League (IPL), he appeared in only one game across three seasons in the league. Fast forward to India's T20I tour of Australia in November, and Chahal was left out of the playing XI in all three games. Then again during the ongoing ODI series, he sat in the dugout in Sydney and Adelaide.
The constant exclusion would have discouraged and frustrated any bowler, especially someone who happened to be India's leading ODI wicket-taker in 2018. But the lack of continuity has never affected Chahal. He has a canny knack of going about his business in a professional manner. He trains hard and can switch on instantaneously. At practice sessions, he loves to emulate real match scenarios and then bowl accordingly. It is all part of his visualisation and preparation.
On Friday, Chahal outfoxed six Australian batsmen to finish with the best ever ODI figures Down Under. It was a masterclass from Chahal and one that will be remembered by the 50,000 Indian fans present at the MCG.
Virat Kohli had held back his primary spinner until the 23rd over, largely due to the fact that there were two left-handers at the crease. Usman Khawaja and Shaun Marsh had added 73 and the hosts were well poised at 2-100. Chahal was switched on the minute he was introduced into the attack. No rustiness and no cobwebs.
Chahal knew both batsmen will try to blunt him out of the attack. But one of his greatest strengths is to read the opponents' mind. He tossed the wide of Marsh's leg-stump in the second delivery and spun it past his pad to have him stumped for 39. Chahal was back.
The amount of spin Chahal was generating along with Khawaja's inclination to tuck the ball into the leg-side prompted Kohli to place a leg-slip. The leggie shortened his length and encouraged Khawaja to flick the ball a lot squarer. The Australian left-hander fell for the trap as he closed the bat face too early to offer a gentle catch back to the bowler. In one over, Chahal had wrestled the advantage back in India's favour. No longer was he cheering from the sidelines; he was amongst the action and spinning a web around the opposition.
There was no rustiness, nor was there any anxiety. It was as if Chahal had been playing competitive cricket day in and day out. For the next three overs, Chahal put on a clinic. He altered his angles, varied his pace, changed his trajectory and landed the ball on a dime. Against Marcus Stoinis, he kept the ball full and outside off-stump. Then suddenly he went wider of the crease and drifted the ball towards leg-stump. Stoinis saw it as an opportunity to push it into the vacant on-side for a single, but the ball gripped and kissed the edge. Commentating on Fox Sports Shane Warne said "look at the way he has curved the ball away and outside the eye line of the batsman prompting Stoinis to turn the bat, that is exactly what you want to as a leg-spinner ‘.
The only time Chahal looked slightly off-colour was against Glenn Maxwell. A couple of full tosses and a half-tracker later, he was out of the attack with figures of 6-0-31-3. Kohli wanted to save his trump card for the death overs. It also allowed Chahal to take a break and compose himself.
Reintroduced in the 42nd over, he first tried to bamboozle Jhye Richardson with a series of googlies before firing one on the line of leg-stump to inducing a leading edge. Chahal had realised that Richardson had become familiar with loopy deliveries and it was time to con the tail-ender by changing his line.
But perhaps Chahal best deception came against the well-set Peter Handscomb. The ball was delivered with a scrambled seam, it had left the ball slightly later than his stock ball and the trajectory was a lot flatter. Handscomb misjudged the length and the ball thudded into his front pad right in front of his stumps. Chahal's brain was constantly ticking and his ability to execute under pressure was exceptional.
"I bowl at the stumps. I get an intuition that the batsman's going to do something. If you bowl four-five dot-balls, then the pressure is on him. At that point, you have time to decide whether to bowl a googly or outside off-stump. My mind is on that, and always trying to guess what the batsman's trying to do and it helps me a lot" Chahal had told the Indian Express in an interview.
Chahal would snare his sixth wicket by having Adam Zampa caught at long-on and in the process finish with figures of 10-0-42-6. Once again Chahal had shown that despite being kept on the sidelines for a long time, he has the presence and skills to make every opportunity count.
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