Bowlers take the slower route
Taking pace off the ball could be a recurring theme in India’s T20 strategy. After the eight-wicket win against Bangladesh in Rajkot on Thursday, the spinners are back in the spotlight.
There’s less than a year to go for the World Twenty20, and as stand-in captain Rohit Sharma has said, every match in the next few months is a build-up to the big event. One of the areas of focus will be getting the bowling combination right. It will have to be done in quick time. Post Bangladesh, India are scheduled to play five more bilateral T20 series. Barring the tour of New Zealand where India are scheduled to play five T20Is, the rest are all three-match rubbers, which means new combinations and new players don’t get enough time to prove themselves.
When it comes to the spin section of the bowling attack, it is a pleasant headache of having too many to choose from. Since the 2016 World Twenty20, India have experimented with 12 spinners. Four among them— Yuzvendra Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav, Krunal Pandya and Washington Sundar—have been persisted with more than others. The combination can’t be more varied: a chinaman, a leg-spinner, an off-spinner and a left-arm orthodox spinner. Unless something goes horribly wrong from here, Chahal is set to be India’s main spinner in Australia.
“I think we always wanted Chahal to get back into this format but we know how crucial he is to this team moving forward and he showed how important he can be in middle overs even when batsmen are set,” Rohit Sharma had said after the loss in Delhi in the first T20I against Bangladesh.
What clinches it for Chahal is his confidence in the middle overs—he doesn’t mind giving the ball some air despite getting hit, or trying to befuddle batsmen with his googly.
But it’s his change of pace that gets batsmen in a mess, says fellow spinner Sundar.
“The way he (Chahal) changes his pace and he knows what the batsman will try and do and which batsman is going to hit where. Different batsmen will have different plans but he is very clever. He is very calm and composed under pressure,” said Sundar after the win in Rajkot on Thursday.
Expect the spinners to get a fair bit of stick in the smaller grounds of India, but that change of pace could prove a masterful strategy in Australia where the boundaries are bigger and outfields slower.
“Whenever I bowl, I vary the pace because otherwise, it becomes easy for the batsmen,” Chahal had said ahead of the second T20I. “The wicket was such (in Delhi) that if you vary the pace it will get difficult for batsmen because the ball was turning, so you need to vary the length according to the batsman.”
Not just the spinners, even the pacers have been trying out the slower balls more. The ball with which Khaleel Ahmed dismissed Afif Hossain in Rajkot was fuller and slower, inducing a slice that was originally meant to be a loft over covers. Last match, Deepak Chahar tried a slower bouncer, inducing Mohammad Naim into an early pull. Sundar too has been trying a few slowers but Chahal’s control over this particular skill is good news for India. Like when he lured Mushfiqur Rahim with a slower length ball in Delhi; Rahim came forward to defend but was beaten all ends by the spin.
“He (Chahal) comes in the middle overs, takes 2-3 wickets and changes the game completely,” said Sundar.
What Chahal needs, going into the rest of the T20 series, is more support from the other spinners. Playing two spinners in Australia or in New Zealand may be a difficult choice to make, but perhaps that’s what India needs to do to find Chahal’s ideal foil.
“The 11 that is playing now, and the players who are there in the 15-member squad they know their roles, it is not like someone is going out after playing one or two matches,” Chahal had said ahead of the Rajkot match. “A couple of matches can go wrong but there is no pressure from the management. The only thing is that we shouldn’t repeat the mistakes.”