Youthful vigour, hunger for wickets and instinct to attack have led to rise of two wrist spinners at expense of more conservative senior colleagues
India's new spin pair - Chahal and Kuldeep - may well have ended ODI careers of Jadeja and Ashwin
Here is a trivia question for you: when did Ravindra Jadeja last represent India in a one-day international? Answer: July 6, 2017. Here is another one: when did Ravichandran Ashwin last play for his national team in an ODI? Answer: June 30, 2017.
We are therefore compelled to ask: why have India's most successful contemporary spin duo – who have taken more than 300 wickets between them – not played in the 50-overs format for the past seven months? Well, the reasons are complicated, but the short two-word answer is: wrist spin.
Now for the long-ish answer: India’s 180-run thrashing at the hands of arch-rivals Pakistan in the ICC Champions Trophy final last June prompted a post-mortem, which concluded that insipid bowling followed by a batting capitulation were the primary reasons why they lost. And let us face it, Virat Kohli was wrong to have asked Pakistan to bat first after winning the toss.
The post-mortem also revealed a deeper problem: Jadeja and Ashwin were just not cutting it in the limited-overs formats any more, and their fortunes in the one-day game, in particular, had seen alarming dips since the conclusion of the 2015 World Cup.
According to statistics that appeared in Scroll.in, off-spinner Ashwin’s ODI bowling average of 31.93 until the 2015 event had risen to an abysmal 47.3 after it. His economy-rate (4.85 to 5.6), strike-rate (39.4 to 50.6) and wickets per innings (1.4 to 1.1) had also worsened considerably.
Slow left-armer Jadeja’s numbers were even more dire: bowling average – 33.19 to 61.58, economy-rate – 4.84 to 5.47, strike-rate – 41 to 67.5, and wickets per innings – 1.25 to 0.8.
Constant travel, excessive cricket – especially a lot of Tests – and the periodic switching of formats might surely have contributed to their slides. But it was also clear that both spinners preferred to contain rather than attack the opposition batsmen. They tended to take wickets by frustrating the batters, and not outsmarting them, a strategy that was not going to work in any given situation or bowling conditions.
But fortunately for India, the collective decline of right-armed Ashwin and left-armed Jadeja has coincided with the ascent of right-armed Yuzvendra Chahal and left-armed Kuldeep Yadav. Except that there is a key difference in their bowling styles: Ashwin and Jadeja are finger spinners, while Chahal and Kuldeep are wrist spinners.
This is a crucial distinction, because modern-day wrist spinners – especially those who are inspired by former Australia leg-spinner Shane Warne and perhaps even the retired Sri Lanka off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan – tend to attack their opponents rather than contain them.
They may find it more challenging to control the ball than the traditional finger spinners do, but they can do much more with it – such as imparting more spin on it and giving it more air.
During the past seven months, Chahal and Kuldeep have shown a hunger for wickets and a fearlessness to flight the ball – both qualities usually associated with youth – and the results are there for all to see. Chahal has taken 34 wickets in 19 ODIs at an average of 21.88, while Kuldeep has managed 28 wickets from 16 matches at 20.77.
Also heartening is the fact both spinners have been creative in finding ways to take wickets, even in South Africa where the conditions do not usually favour spinners. They have benefited from bowling slower in the air, and daring – or enticing – batsmen to charge down the track and hit them over the top. Chahal’s five-wicket haul in the Centurion one-dayer was a case in point.
It is too early to make any predictions yet, and maybe this is just a phase in Indian cricket. But the manner in which this duo has impressed over the past few months suggests Jadeja, 29, and Ashwin, 31, may have kissed goodbye their chances of playing in the 2019 World Cup – incidentally to be staged in England, where India lost that Champions Trophy final.
Whether Chahal and Kuldeep have also ended the senior players' ODI careers entirely, of course, only time will tell.