Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav’s terrific exhibition of aggressive spin bowling with a wet, dew-encased white ball should go down as one of the most extraordinary sights in Twenty20 (T20) cricket. The duo’s magnificent performance against Sri Lanka on Wednesday went against the grain of every accepted theory about bowling with a wet ball.
The spin twins virtually wiped the Barabati Stadium with the Lankan batsmen and the combined haul of 6 for 41 from their eight overs was the sort of result that would be almost impossible to emulate for any other set of spinners.
True, spin bowling in limited-overs cricket is not an alien concept. It has been in vogue since the time limited-overs cricket was introduced. But the manner in which two young purveyors of the art, Chahal and Yadav, were rocking on Wednesday was nothing short of sensational.
To boot, both bowled wrist-spin, as is their wont, and this made their attack in tandem not just a joy to behold but literally set the cat among the pigeons.
Of course, India have always banked on spin bowlers to prop up their limited-overs bowling attack. From Bishan Singh Bedi and Srinivas Venkataraghavan to Harbhajan Singh and Anil Kumble to Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, spinners have formed an integral part of India's short format strategies.
In all these permutations there was either a left-right combination or an off-spinner-leg-spinner mix. The concept of leg-spin was of the Kumble kind — flat, fast and barely turning the ball, just enough to catch the edge or beat the bat.
Of course, for a while L Sivaramakrishnan with his flighted leg-spin was utilised with some success until the bowler lost his nerve all too soon.
In between, it was the non-specialist bowlers, Yuvraj Singh, Sachin Tendulkar, et al who turned their arm over with varying success.
However, none of them carried the aura of Chahal or Yadav to the bowling crease. These two are unbelievably hostile spinners. Hostility in bowling is usually associated with fast bowlers of the pedigree of Mitchell Starc or Dale Steyn. They could be expected to target a batsman’s head with fast, fearsome bouncers or rip his foot out with searing yorkers.
Chahal and Yadav, though, bring a different kind of hostility to the bowling crease: a bristling, overt, non-verbal communication that they are out to dismiss the batsman, not just contain him.
Towards this end, they impart a lot more revolutions on their wrist-spin, unlike other spinners who, while bowling flat and fast, compromise on the spin imparted on the ball. This ensures that middling the spinning ball is always a challenge for batsmen wanting to hit them over the top.
Additionally, bat specifications have changed to the extent that mis-hits don’t really carry the ball over the fence. The batsman has to use his feet to negate the spin and extra bounce gained through excessive revolutions on the ball. This is where Chahal and Yadav are smart. They often bowl slower, toss the ball higher, but seldom in line with the stumps. The batsman reaching out has issues to deal with. If he misses, there is Mahendra Singh Dhoni behind the stumps to send him on his way.
What made their showing most impressive on Wednesday was that it contained all of the above, even when delivered with a wet ball. Perhaps being wrist-spinners, rather than finger spinners helped in minimising the handicap of bowling with the wet ball.
Chahal, in the post-match interview, said they were aware of the issues and had practiced hard with a wet ball. They were thus used to the wet, slippery ball and the excessive dew fall did not overwhelm them.
On the other hand, the Lankan batsmen, who expected run-making to be an easy task as the opponents would have to grapple with the slippery effect of a wet ball, were flummoxed with the high quality of aggressive spin bowling.
Despite being sub-continental batsmen who are used to playing spin on a regular basis, they found the lines bowled by the duo a challenge. Besides, both Chahal and Yadav made optimum use of the five fielders permitted outside the circle in T20 cricket.
The outfielders were constantly cutting off the boundaries on an outfield made heavy by the dew. When they tried to take the aerial route, the slightest mis-hit was pouched smartly in the deep by Hardik Pandya and KL Rahul respectively.
Certainly two wrist-spinners adept at sending down leg-spin, googlies and top-spin and coming at the batsmen with their right arm and left arm respectively is a very rare sight. The fact that both are young, have the same aggressive bent of mind and enjoy plotting the downfall of batsmen makes them a unique combination.