India’s wrist-spin duo of Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal claimed 33 out of 53 Protean wickets in six One Day International (ODI) matches of the ongoing bilateral series in South Africa. They were instrumental in India’s 5-1 victory, the team’s first series win in South Africa, which also took India to the top of the world ODI rankings.

Barring the rain-curtailed fourth ODI, the two not only stemmed the flow of runs in the crucial middle overs but also picked up wickets at regular intervals, helping India control the games. Their performance is special because conditions in South Africa have not been suitable traditionally for spin bowling. Imran Tahir and Tabraiz Shamsi, the two wrist spinners for the home team, only played in four and two matches, respectively, and managed only one wicket.

Wrist spinners, always considered to be attacking options for the fielding side in limited-overs cricket, have come to the fore in the last couple of years. Consider this: Between 1 January 2017 and 18 February 2018, Rashid Khan of Afghanistan has been the highest wicket taker in ODIs, with 56 wickets in 20 matches.

Kuldeep Yadav (left) and Yuzvendra Chahal.
Kuldeep Yadav (left) and Yuzvendra Chahal.

The top 10 list features five wrist spinners, including Yadav and Chahal.

In fact, the Indian duo has been so impressive in the format that Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja (both finger spinners), India’s front-line spinners for a while in all formats, had to fight for a place in the ODI team. The two still feature at No.3 and No.6, respectively, in the list of highest wicket takers in Test matches since January 2017 and are India’s go-to spinners in Tests. But the scene is different in ODIs. Ashwin and Jadeja have played only nine and 10 matches, respectively, since January 2017 and have claimed eight wickets each. India have played 35 ODIs in the same period.

Yadav’s and Chahal’s performances augur well for India’s future and, as captain Virat Kohli has mentioned, they could become the X-factors at the 2019 World Cup in England. India’s tour of England in summer will give us some insight into that.