India needed just one more victory to come off their Sri Lankan tour with a flawless record. They had swept aside the opposition in the Tests and ODIs, but in the shortest format of the game, one individual performance is quite often all it takes to win the game for a team.
The common notion is that the shorter the format gets, the better the chances for weaker teams to win.
Sri Lanka, looking downtrodden and lost, had an opportunity to put one past the ruthless Indians in the one-off T20 at the R Premadasa Stadium in Colombo. Put in to bat, the Lankans once again lost one of their openers, Upul Tharanga this time, early in the innings.
But Dilshan Munaweera, who had a disastrous ODI debut just a few days back, found some of his form back when he lent into a sublime cover drive off Bhuvneshwar Kumar in the fourth over. He followed it up with a wild swipe two balls later that fetched him four more.
Kohli had to call on Yuzvendra Chahal, much as he would have done at Royal Challengers Bangalore. The short leg-spinner had been used with the new ball in the previous IPL season and Kohli was willing to give him a go against a vulnerable Lankan top order within the powerplay.
Munaweera had other ideas though. The delightful strokemaker that he is, Munaweera took on the leggie with a gorgeous looking inside-out shot that soared over the boundary line for a maximum. By now, he had put his miserable form from the past week behind him and further emphasised it by clearing his leg and slamming Chahal for another six off the very next ball.
The wily leg-spinner wasn't used to being treated with absolute disdain in his stint at RCB. Kohli had managed him quite well in the franchise. But with strife striking in the form of Dilshan Munaweera, Chahal had to find a way to gloss his numbers.
He conceded just two more runs in the next three balls before a superb googly followed in the final ball of the over that Sri Lankan had no clue about.
Chahal returned immediately after the powerplay overs and had Angelo Mathews stumped with a peach of a delivery. The flighted ball landed short of a length and ripped past Mathews bat with his foot dangling in the air. That miniscule of a second was all MS Dhoni needed to effect a stunning stumping and gift Chahal his first victim of the day.
When the wrist spinner returned next over, Munaweera was ready for him and greeted him with another inside out loft, this time with his dancing shoes on, for six. Chahal immediately shortened his length, pushed in a googly and then a flighted leg break to silence Munaweera. But all of the built up pressure released when the Uva Next hero of the Sri Lankan Premier League jumped down the track and hit him clean over his head for yet another maximum.
Chahal was by now under pressure having conceded four sixes, all of them coming off Munaweera's powerful bat. He was getting predictable and when he shortened his length next ball, the maverick batsman was ready with his cheeky dab that raced past the keeper for a four.
After his first three overs, Chahal's figures read 3-0-35-1. You might as well have scratched out the wickets column with MS Dhoni’s mind-boggling glovework being the primary reason for Mathews’ wicket.
These three overs were turning out to be a huge blow for a lad whose last T20 game, in February, saw him pick figures of 6/25 against England at Bengaluru. Those numbers remain India’s best in the T20 format and the third best overall. Chahal had created quite a big stir in IPL circles with his consistent performances for Royal Challengers Bangalore in the last three years
Now, Yuzvendra Chahal is finally starting to step out of the shadows of Amit Mishra. Captain of his state team and fellow leg-spinner, Mishra has been one of the primary reasons for Chahal's limited opportunities in the First-Class arena. Although he has been around in First-Class cricket for the past eight years, Chahal has figured in less than 30 matches with Mishra being the regular spinner in the Haryana side.
However, T20 was a different ball game. Chahal's quickish action, skiddy leg-spinners and tricky googlies proved to be a handful in this format. Mumbai Indians snapped him up in 2011 but with Harbhajan Singh available, the leggie figured in just seven matches in two years for the Mumbai-based franchise.
A shift to RCB in 2014 turned his fortunes around. In dire need of a wicket-taker, Bangalore turned to Chahal's quirky action and smart variations. He thrived under Virat Kohli in the following three years which also saw him make his India debut.
Now, with Ashwin and Jadeja having underperformed in the Champions Trophy in England, Chahal had a golden opportunity up his sleeve to impress the selectors. But so did Kuldeep Yadav and Axar Patel. He had to finish this race ahead of the other two to stand a chance and despite getting more opportunities than Kuldeep in the ODIs, Chahal had failed to garner much attention.
But T20 was his ball game. He knew he had to make this one count. That said, with figures of 35/1 after 3 overs, Chahal had seemingly flushed the chance.
All he had was six balls to change his fortunes on this tour. That number came down to four when Thisara Perera smoked him over long-on for a huge six in the second ball of the over. Chahal had now conceded as many as five sixes in the innings.
Sri Lanka, meanwhile, were now edging towards a threatening total with Thisara Perera and Ashan Priyanjan batting and Seekkuge Prasanna and Dasun Shanaka waiting in the wings.
And then the demons of RCB took over Yuzvendra Chahal. He bowled a shorter ball on off-stump knowing that Perera loves to clear his front leg and hit in the 'V’. The all-rounder promptly played the cut shot and the resulting inside edge shattered his wicket. Next ball, he greeted Dasun Shanaka, back to international cricket after a hiatus, with a sharp googly that missed the stumps by a whisker. A skiddy leg-break followed that Shanaka tried to sweep and was beaten. Another googly next ball had the Sri Lankan walking back with a duck to his name.
Chahal had finished his spell with figures of 4-0-43-3. Not impressive by any stretch of one's imagination but his terrific final over had put a sudden break to Sri Lanka's surge in the middle overs. That is exactly what Chahal does day in day out for RCB. He picks up wickets when it matters. Wrist spinners are bound to go for runs but they always pose a wicket-taking threat to the batsmen as Chahal did today. He may have had a mixed day, but this RCBian is one to persist with.
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