Yuzvendra Chahal has attributed the end of the successful bowling partnership between him and Kuldeep Yadav to the team combination adopted by India stating that the injury to Hardik Pandya had adversely affected the chances of the two wrist spinners bowling in tandem in limited-overs for the country. While there is merit in his statement another reason for Chahal and Yadav to have fallen out of favour is their own declining form in the 50-over and 20-over formats.
The Great Years
R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja - the two leading spinners for India in Test cricket were not yielding the same results in the limited overs’ formats. The 2017 ICC Champions Trophy final against Pakistan in London marked the end of the duo as a pairing for India in ODI cricket. Ashwin was hammered for 70 in his 10 overs while Jadeja was smacked for 67 in his 8 overs.
This gave birth to a new era in Indian cricket in the limited-overs where two wrist spinners bowled in tandem and dominated the best batsmen in the world.
India won a whopping 24 of the 34 ODI matches in which Chahal and Yadav played together for the country between 2017 and 2019. They were the two highest wicket-takers for India in these 34 matches - while the Chinman returned with 65 ODI wickets at an average of 22.73 and strike rate of 27.6, the leg-break bowler bagged 53 wickets at an average of 29.26 and strike rate of 33.5. Both of them were also phenomenally restrictive with an economy rate of 4.94 and 5.23 - thus not only were they tormenting opposition line-ups by picking heaps of wickets they were also making run-scoring very difficult and controlling the game in the middle overs.
It was a similar story in T20I cricket too. India won 8 and lost just two of the 10 matches in which Chahal and Kuldeep played together. While the left-arm wrist spinner bagged 22 wickets at a stunning strike rate of 9.6 and economy rate of 7.23, Chahal returned with 19 wickets at a strike rate of 11.8 and economy rate of 7.97.
Hardik Pandya - The All-Rounder & Team Combination
Hardik Pandya made his ODI debut in July 2017, a month after Kuldeep Yadav. With him in the team as a batting all-rounder who chipped in with his brisk medium pacers playing the role of the fifth or sixth bowler in the XI, it gave the Indian captain Virat Kohli a chance to play two attacking wrist spinners in Yadav and Chahal in the XI. India played as many as 24 result matches between 2017 and 2019 in which all three - Hardik, Chahal and Yadav - played together and were victorious in 17 of these encounters.
Then a few events happened simultaneously which ultimately saw an end to the Chahal-Yadav pairing in limited overs’ cricket for India.
A Massive Dip In Form in T20 Cricket
After a brilliant IPL 2018, where he returned with 17 wickets at a strike rate of 18.11, Yadav witnessed a dramatic turn of events and lost all form and rhythm next season. He could pick just four wickets in 9 matches at an average of 71.5 in 2019. This had an effect on his fortunes for India too and he went out of favour and represented the country in just two matches in the year.
It was almost the same script for Chahal but in international cricket. After a magnificent couple of years for India in T20 cricket, his form went on the downward spiral from 2019. He picked just 8 wickets in 9 matches at an average of 39.25 and economy rate of 8.97 - thus, not only was he not picking wickets he was also going for aplenty in the middle overs.
The Back Injury To Hardik Pandya & The Return of Ravindra Jadeja
Continuous problems with his back meant that Hardik missed a number of internationals for India between 2018 and 2021. He did not play a single of the 12 ODI matches played by the country between July 2019 and November 2020. This period also saw the return in form, both with the bat and ball of Jadeja - the limited overs’ player. The left-hander started to make significant contributions and play the role of the finisher in the lower-order. He also chipped in with the wickets and was very restrictive conceding just 5.3 runs per over. Jadeja played in all the 12 ODIs in this period and had taken the role of the all-rounder from Hardik.
As India already had a spinner in the XI, there was now no place for both the wrist spinners - thus Chahal and Yadav had to split the matches between themselves as the second spinner. Yadav played 9 ODIs in this period while Chahal played just three.
The Form of Chahal and Yadav Continued to Decline
Chahal’s bad form in T20I cricket also started to affect his performances in ODIs. His economy rate saw a rise from 4.82 in 2018 to 5.73 in 2029. He further lost his wicket-taking prowess in 2020 and picked just 7 wickets in 4 matches at an average of 37.85 and economy rate of 6.79.
A trusted and seasoned campaigner for the RCB, Chahal had returned as the highest wicket-taker amongst spinners in IPL 2020 in the UAE. However, he gave one of his worst performances in the IPL this season returning with just 4 wickets in 7 matches at an average of 47.5 and economy over 8.
With the emergence of Rahul Chahar over the last two editions of the tournament, Chahal’s place as the second spinner and the number one wrist spinner in India’s limited overs’ teams is also now under a serious threat.
Yadav was never the same bowler, either for KKR or for India since IPL 2019.
Kuldeep has picked just 18 wickets in 19 matches for India in ODI cricket post IPL 2019. His bowling average has deteriorated to almost 58 and strike rate worsened to 59.3 thereafter. He has since just represented India in three T20Is and gone at a rate of 10.37 runs per over. He even lost the spot of KKR’s leading spinner to Varun Chakravarthy in IPL 2020. Kuldeep did not make any impact in the 5 matches he played for KKR picking just one solitary wicket. KKR did not think he was deserving of even a solitary match in this season of the competition.
With Hardik and Jadeja a certainty in India’s limited overs’ squads and with the rise of other spin bowling all-rounders like Washington Sundar and Krunal Pandya and specialist wrist spinners like Rahul Chahar, time is running out for both Chahal and Yadav.
Not too long ago an inseparable pair for India in the shorter formats, they may now struggle to even hold on to one position between themselves in the XI.
Kul-Cha is not in favour any more.