After R. Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja failed to impress in the Champions Trophy in June, India’s One Day International (ODI) plan has pivoted on leg spin. Yuzvendra Chahal has become a crucial element of this new strategy, along with Kuldeep Yadav. Chahal spoke of his journey to becoming India’s primary limited-overs’ spinner this year. Edited excerpts from an interview:
Since the Champions Trophy, the Indian team has changed its mindset regarding leg spin. How do you think you have grown in this scenario since the Sri Lanka tour in August?
I would say this didn’t just begin with the Sri Lanka tour. I have been part of the Indian team for a while now. I toured Zimbabwe last year and then played against England in India in January-February. I have played with and against this same bunch of players. I have been doing well in the Indian Premier League (IPL) over the last three-four seasons, and backed it up with consistent performances in the Ranji Trophy. So my confidence was growing over a period of time. It was just about taking that confidence to the next level and finding my feet in the scheme of things, something that I was able to do when given the chance.
The new, young spin attack has sidelined Ashwin and Jadeja for now. What was the message from the team management in this situation?
The key to our bowling has been taking wickets. Both Kuldeep and I are attacking spinners. We don’t mind giving away 10-15 extra runs as long as batsmen are attacking us, because we know that we will end up taking their wickets. The team management has backed us, allowing us to attack the opposition. If things don’t go our way, there is also a plan B in place to help us. But Virat (Kohli) has impressed upon us the importance of taking wickets. If you don’t take wickets in ODI cricket, you cannot win, so he has backed us to attack the batsmen at all times.
The dismissals of Glenn Maxwell (during the Australia ODI series)—are these good examples of how you attacked a batsman who was also intent on taking you on?
Someone like Maxwell is going to attack you. When bowling to him, my thinking is to not bowl even a single loose ball. If you bowl tight, he will get agitated and think about scoring in different ways. He will try to manufacture shots or step out of his crease. So, with such a batsman, all you have to do is bowl with patience and let him do the hard work.
In Sri Lanka, India had two leg spinners in the playing eleven for the first time in ODIs. It has become a regular feature since. What is your partnership with Yadav like?
We are both leg spinners, but he is a Chinaman bowler, so the angle of delivery and the purchase he gets from any particular pitch is different from what I get from the same wicket. My leg spin is more traditional, and there is significant difference when a batsman faces us bowling in tandem. This element has allowed us to feature in the same eleven.
Bowling together, like any other spin pairing, we discuss trade-craft. We talk about how a pitch is playing, or how a particular batsman is playing against us. Sometimes, we discuss what has worked or hasn’t for either of us, and what the other can do accordingly to attack the batsmen.
Has it occurred to you that you could be India’s prime spin attack for the 2019 World Cup, ahead of Ashwin-Jadeja?
The biggest point about our spin combination—Kuldeep, Axar Patel and I—is that we have come through the ranks together. We have played junior cricket together, gained IPL experiences together and similarly performed well in domestic cricket. The IPL has been a standout factor for all of us. It has helped us play with the best players in international cricket and we arrived on the international stage ready to take on the opposition.
We do not think we have replaced Ashwin and/or Jadeja. They are the world’s top-ranked spinners and you just cannot take away their expertise or experience. The World Cup is still quite far off and a lot of cricket is still to be played before that. At best, as a spin group, we think about playing overseas over the next year or so, and gaining experience in conditions that might be the same as those on offer during the World Cup.
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