The alternate world of Yuzvendra Chahal
- Preying on KKR’s urge to attack, Chahal shows once again that T20s can be won by taking wickets too
There are many cricketing stories that may never become public. And then there are some that, once revealed, never stop haunting us. Bound and abandoned in a hotel room all night? Dangled from a 15th-floor balcony? How can it not throw you off kilter! Barring a few supportive tweets though, Yuzvendra Chahal’s revelations haven’t sparked much uproar at many levels, not that we know of officially. Things usually go two ways after this—endure a lifetime of meltdowns, moping over what you could have done to prevent it; or respond by doing what you do best despite getting some stick. Chahal has been consistently doing the latter.
The timing of all this is crucial too. Left out of the T20 World Cup last year, released by Royal Challengers Bangalore, Chahal slowly found himself on the fringes triggering debates if left-arm slow bowling was more effective (read: economical) than wrist-spin in limited-overs cricket. But first, let’s get some facts straight before dwelling on how revolutionising his match-winning figures of 5/40 are. No spinner has averaged more wickets per IPL match than Chahal. His strike rate of 16.62 is the best ever among all bowlers to have taken at least 100 IPL wickets, and at an average second only to Sri Lankan great Lasith Malinga. This season, Chahal has already racked up some incredible numbers: 17 wickets in six matches at a strike rate of 8.47 and an average of 10.35 per wicket.
And the only reason why Chahal has been bossing the IPL is his attitude—prioritising wickets over the need to contain runs. Like he did on Monday. “Forty off four with six wickets in hand, we were still very much in charge of the game. Credit to Chahal, he is just an absolute brilliant bowler,” said Kolkata Knight Riders coach Brendon McCullum after their brave chase of 217 fizzled out at 210, courtesy Chahal’s four-wicket—including a hattrick—over. “Pressure situations don't bother him. We talked extensively in the meetings about how he was such a threat, and that we didn't want to give him wickets during key moments of games.”
But they did. Blame it on the irrepressible urge to close out the game as early as possible or the temptation of going after a diminutive leg-spinner, KKR didn’t hold back when Chahal was given his fourth over. And since he had already leaked 38 runs by then, his threat perception was possibly much less. Chahal knew his brief though. “I had to take wickets in this match to change the result,” he said after the win.
The foundation of that implosion was laid in the last ball of the previous over when Venkatesh Iyer turned down a second run from Shreyas Iyer. Under the pump to start the over with a bang, Venkatesh uncharacteristically skipped down the track. A premeditated move that played straight into Chahal’s hands, all he had to do was take the ball away from him with a googly, something he said later "was coming out well."
Each of his next three wickets was prised on the promise of runs—a full ball on the leg to Shreyas, another overpitched one wide outside off to Shivam Mavi followed by a classically flighted leg-break to Pat Cummins.
By sending Mavi ahead of Cummins, KKR were trying to protect the Australian from spin and save him for the pacers. Last ball of the over, Cummins was possibly prepared to swing his bat to Chahal’s googly but he got a leg-break instead. Chahal later said he would have been happy with a dot ball but Cummins had made up his mind anyway. And as much it highlights the knee-jerk need to be one-up against a spinner just a ball away from completing his quota, that delivery also underscores Chahal’s repertoire as a T20 enforcer.
"You can't allow good players like Chahal to enter the game when there's pressure on," said McCullum. "They are just far too good. We played a good game of cricket but we made a couple of silly mistakes. Jos Buttler got a hundred, Yuzi Chahal got a five-for including a hat-trick, and we lost by just seven runs. So we played a good game, but we ran second."
Nine times out of 10, you blindly give the man of the match to the centurion—the inimitable Jos Buttler in this case. But the 10th time can be different only because of a bowling brain like Chahal. This award shouldn’t just be viewed as recognition of a match-winning haul but also of a high-risk, high-reward intent in a format where economies tend to define a bowler’s worth. You may hit him out of the park but Chahal will come back, work you out and win the match. It’s a quality both rare and revered.