India’s iconic wicket-keeper batsman and former World Cup winning skipper, MS Dhoni will probably hang up his cricketing boots at the end of the World Cup of 2019. Someone who firmly believes that dreams do manifest, he will have envisioned a triumphant goodbye to the game, with trophy in hand, at Lord’s on 14 July this year.
One of the favourites to the win the World Cup in 2019 along with hosts England, Team India will have a few tricks up its sleeves as it begins its campaign at Southampton against South Africa on 5 June. One of them will be the lethal combination of Dhoni with India’s star tweakers, Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav.
Leg-spinner Chahal, and left-arm chinaman Yadav are ‘partners in crime’ with Dhoni. The three of them plot the downfall of opposition batsmen like nobody’s business. Though the stump mic has let viewers eavesdrop on the conversation between ‘keepers and bowlers, of late, this isn’t something new. It has been going on for as long as the game has been played. But Dhoni and his two young disciples have taken it to the next level.
The 28-year-old Chahal, who hails from Jind in Haryana, was a chess player who once represented India in the World Youth Championships. He had to give up the brainy game, and his intellectual pursuits, because he couldn’t find a sponsor for himself. Chess’ loss was thus cricket’s gain. The wily leggie now uses his legendary game reading, anticipation and intuition to fox the best limited overs batsmen the world over.
Yadav, 24, on the other hand is a Wasim Akram fan who, much to his disappointment, was turned into a chinaman bowler by his coach in Kanpur. Ten years ago, he had contemplated suicide after not being considered for a place in the Uttar Pradesh junior squad. Yadav has come a long way since then. Though he isn’t a ‘thinker’ in the true sense of the term, he specialises in giving international batsmen sleepless nights after fooling them with his chinaman, wrong ‘un and the flipper. What’s more, the whip that he imparts to the ball fetches him just enough drift to deceive the batsman in the air.
The lean and mean Chahal came into the Indian one-day international (ODI) squad in 2016, while ‘chubby-cheeks’ Yadav made his ODI debut only in 2017. In less than a couple of years, both of them have managed to dislodge the firmly entrenched and proven pair of Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja from the national squad, in the white-ball versions of the game.
The duo displays a school-boy like enthusiasm on the ground and they enjoy each others’ success with high-fives and hugs. They probably exchange notes on batsmen’s weak points and pat each other’s backs when their plans work. In most cases, they have senior statesman Dhoni to thank because he passes on information to them between deliveries, sometimes even loud enough for viewers to hear on their television sets. ‘Mahi bhai’ is their friend, guide and philosopher.
Recently, when last man Trent Boult walked in to bat in an India-New Zealand ODI, Yadav had picked a wicket in the previous delivery, bowling over the wicket. Dhoni, from behind the stumps, instructed him to bowl a wrong one from round the wicket. “He’ll surely jab at it,” he said in Hindi. After Boult was caught in the slips, first ball, and Yadav exulted, Dhoni walked away coolly, his day in the office done.
It isn’t very often that Chahal is collared by the opposition. He bowls in a corridor, to a much disciplined line and length, and turns the ball just enough to trouble batsmen. Yadav, on the other hand, is often taken to the cleaners but ends up picking vital wickets; most of them in the outfield and a few close in — especially to quick fire stumpings by Dhoni.
In the antipodes this summer, Yadav played two ODIs against Australia and wasn’t very successful. He was replaced in the final match by Chahal who then picked six wickets in his full quota of overs, conceding only 42 runs and helped India win the match and the series. In New Zealand, both of them played in tandem till the fourth ODI. Coming on in the middle overs, they created just enough doubts in the minds of the Black Caps to cause their downfall. Chahal and Yadav had a hand in India’s 4-1 series win against the Kiwis.
With Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar opening the bowling for India, and either Mohammad Shami or Hardik Pandya (if fit) playing as the third seamer, the duo of Chahal and Yadav could prove to be extremely handy in English conditions during the World Cup. Wickets in Ol’ Blighty being flatter than ever before, very few grounds there would now warrant playing of four seamers in a limited overs game. It is only hoped that India’s batting fires during the important event, with Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli and others piling up runs. If not, the Indians will be forced to play Kedar Jadhav as a batsman-bowler and sadly, drop Yadav.
India’s outings in England over the last couple of years have been a bit disappointing. The team first lost to Pakistan in the final of the Champion’s Trophy and then lost an ODI series to England (1-2) in 2018.
Team India plays its World Cup league matches against South Africa and Afghanistan at the Rose Bowl, Southampton, against Pakistan (if at all) and the Windies at Old Trafford, Manchester and against England and Bangladesh at Edgbaston, Birmingham. India also plays Australia at The Oval, London, New Zealand at Trent Bridge, Nottingham and Sri Lanka at Headingly, Leeds. Most of these tracks will help wrist spinners like Chahal and Yadav turn the ball.
With the ODI series coming up against Australia, which should in fact be a dress rehearsal for the big event in June-July 2019, it is hoped that Kohli will play both Chahal and Yadav in all the matches. It could just be the assurance they need to perform well in the World Cup and help India bring home the coveted trophy they had last won in 2011.
What’s more, it could just be the send off they would like to give their guru, ‘Mahi bhai’.
The author is a caricaturist and sportswriter. A former fast bowler and coach, he is now a mental toughness trainer.