Attack or defend, India spoilt for spin choices as T20 World Cup approaches
Varun Chakravarthy, who made his T20I debut on Sunday, takes pride in his repertoire comprising seven variations with one more in the making. Yuzvendra Chahal is a leg-spinner whose variations are subtler, positioned around his stock ball, the orthodox leg-spinner. There is place for both. Chakravarthy the mystery spinner ends up taking more risk, while Chahal’s primary objective is greater control. Their first outing as a bowling combination for India was promising in the win over Sri Lanka.
Chahal gave a good account of how wrist-spinners—a desired bowling class in T20s—win you matches, bowling defensively. He came on to bowl immediately after the powerplay, took control of the middle-overs without looking to bowl magic balls and never allowed Sri Lanka to push ahead despite powerful hitting from Charith Asalanka.
It helped that Sri Lanka’s batting resources were meagre and they could not attack from both ends. Chahal was also allowed to set the tone with a wicket off his second delivery, a spinning leg break which the batsman played down the wrong line. But never was he lured into going in search of wickets. No extra air given, all he wanted to do was keep the batsmen honest. Most of his deliveries to right-handers were bowled outside off-stump.
Chahal isn’t your typical T20 leg-spinner who rings in googlies and flippers every over. The wrong one is employed sparingly based on ground dimensions and an understanding of the mood the batsmen are in. “The end I was bowling from, the leg-side boundary was shorter, and they were looking to hit that side. That's why I didn't bowl googlies to the right-handers,” he said post-match.
“I didn't want to give them confidence. I thought that if I can bowl a lot of dot balls, pressure will build. So, even if I don't get a wicket, my partner from the other end can bowl more freely. If I had tried to go for wickets, or tried something extra, and they had hit a six or four, the pressure would have automatically come on us because the total wasn’t so big. So, I bowled more googlies to the left-handers. I kept mixing it up.”
A lot of the thin leg-spinner’s variations come from his use of the crease, angles and speed. Doing this consistently, he stays in the business. On his day, he gets wickets in the bargain. On other days, equally importantly, he bowls miserly spells like his 4-19-1 on Sunday.
That job of taking the risk belongs to the mystery spinner. For his rare skill sets Chakravarthy would become tough to ignore for the selectors. “Varun is hard to pick. Even when I am facing (in the nets) he is difficult,” skipper Shikhar Dhawan told the broadcasters.
Part of the risk with wrist-spinners who look to bowl a wide variety of deliveries is inadvertent. “It happens a lot with the leg-spinners of the modern day where they are looking to bowl a good length and end up yorking batsmen,” R Ashwin said on YouTube show Spin Talks. “That’s why wrist-spinners have come into the game so much.”
The T20 World Cup in the UAE will see plenty of spin, and the selectors have many options for each role. Like Chahal, Washington Sundar is defensive in approach but good at varying lengths and bowls with control. He is the only finger-spinner on view, unless they bring back Ashwin. There’s Rahul Chahar with his leg-breaks vying for the same spot as Chahal.
Krunal Pandya hasn’t been doing badly with his left-arm spin in addition to his batting, but he is behind Ravindra Jadeja in the pecking order. “All our spinners are doing well,” said Chahal. “You know that there are two spinners behind your place who are doing well. Each of us can only be in the team if we perform.”