IND vs NZ 3rd ODI: The Chahal conundrum

“Aaj Chahal TV pe koi player nahi aayenge, aaj hum aapko survey karwayenge dressing room ka”

Like an energetic vlogger, Indian leg spinner Yuzvedra Chahal holds a mic and makes a touring video of the Indian dressing room at Raipur. From being the first-choice leg-spinner in the limited-overs set up, he has been warming the bench of late. And the question on everyone’s lips is why is the team management utilising his services more with the mic than with the ball lately.

Chahal flew to the T20 World Cup hoping that bigger grounds in Australia will favour suit his bowling only for the team management not field the leg-spinner in any of the games. Even as other teams preferred wrist-spinners, Chahal warmed the bench the entire tournament. He played in New Zealand, and in the three T20Is and one ODIs against Sri Lanka before making the way for Kuldeep Yadav.

With the 50-over World Cup taking precedence and the need to find balance means, India have been forced to take a few calls. And to make up for their batters who don’t bowl, they have opted for spinners who can bat and that means there is only one spot available for Chahal and Kuldeep. And in that context, the former seems to be the one who is being sacrificed for the bigger cause. Since making his comeback, Kuldeep has not only out-bowled Chahal, but is also giving the team a wicket-taking option in the middle-overs. Plus, not all teams have a Chinaman in their ranks and the unfamiliarity that Kuldeep brings is always going to work in his favour once he found the mojo back.

And given his recent performances, Kuldeep also seems to have won back the trust of the team management. And to partner Kuldeep and lend more balance to the team India are looking at one of Ravindra Jadeja, Axar Patel and Washington Sundar as the second spinner – with the latter being the preferred choice in the ODIs against New Zealand in the absence of the other two.

These factors have now pushed Chahal to the backseat and it remains to be seen what sort of an effect it has on his bowling now. Spinners, especially wrist-spinners, need confidence to prosper. Given the risk factor of giving a few more runs in search of a wicket, unless they have the full trust of the captain and the team management, wrist-spinners can lose confidence quickly. When the two made the Indian team cut post the 2017 Champions Trophy, the then team management backed the duo to go for wickets even at the expense of runs. With MS Dhoni around to guide them from behind, they were soldiers who just followed their master’s instruction.

Indian cricket players Ishan Kishan and Yuzvendra Chahal attend a practice session on the eve of the first one-day international cricket match between India and New Zealand in Hyderabad, India, Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2023. (AP Photo/Mahesh Kumar A.)

In 2018, Chahal had attributed his success to the freedom given by the team management the support he received from Virat Kohli. “Wrist spinners are mostly attacking and when your captain is so attacking, you get more freedom to attack,” the lanky leggie had said. And it seems line in the post Ravi Shastri and Kohli era, Chahal is not getting the same freedom he once enjoyed. No guaranteed spot in the XI, and not enough game time seems to have had an impact on his bowling.

On the eve of their third and final ODI against New Zealand at the Holkar Stadium on Monday, Chahal kept bowling to Hardik Pandya and Shubman Gill at the nets. With India already clinching the series, this is a dead-rubber game, and Chahal will be hoping to get a chance on Tuesday.

Even head coach Rahul Dravid said the team would be looking to give opportunities. “Even here, there are a few guys who are yet to get a decent run in ODIs. We have been striving to give optimum opportunities in these 15-odd games before the World Cup to the ones who are in the mix,” the coach stated.

The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has already identified 20 players for the 50-over World Cup and the team will rotate these players till the multi-nation tournament in October-November. Apart from Chahal, Umran Mallik, Shahbaz Ahmed, Rajat Patidar and S Bharat are yet to get a game in the series. However, Dravid has made it clear that the team will give opportunity to only those who are in fray for 50 over World Cup meaning the likes of Bharat, Patidar and Ahmed may have to wait.

Although benching Chahal is seen as him dropping down the pecking order, former India spinner Narendra Hirwani said the team has enough confidence in the leg-spinner and is only trying new players. “Chahal is the match winner. He has great maturity and team management has full confidence in him that is why they aren’t worried much about him. He is such a kind of bowler, who even after a few gaps between games will win you matches. He has a big heart and it’s just that the Indian team is rotating its players,” Hirwani said.

The Indian team had an optional practice session at the venue which has always been a batting paradise. The tickets for Tuesday’s game have been sold out and a full house is expected. There will be some on the bench hoping to leave some mark in an insignificant game for the hosts.

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