India will commence their limited overs’ tour of Sri Lanka from the 18th of July and one of the big questions doing the rounds is the team’s choice of the preferred leg spinner in the XI. Who will India start with in the series? Will they go back to the experienced but out of form Yuzvendra Chahal or will they give the young 21-year old impressive Rahul Chahar a long run in the island nation?
Let us explore.
The Case for Yuzvendra Chahal
Chahal has the experience of having played 54 ODIs and 48 T20Is for India in which he has returned with 92 and 62 wickets respectively. While he has been a wicket-taker and a strike bowler for India in both the formats controlling the innings from the middle overs, his numbers post 2019 have seen a major decline.
Chahal was one of India’s biggest match-winners with the ball and bagged 50 ODI wickets in just 30 innings at a brilliant economy rate of 4.88 during the two year period 2017-2018. However, he started to leak runs and his economy rate started to rise significantly post 2019. Although he has still managed to be amongst the wickets for India his economy rate has gone up dramatically to almost 6 per over (5.96) post the 1st of January, 2019 and the leg spinner has not had the same control he did in the middle overs.
The contrast in his T20I numbers is ever more significant. From debut till the end of 2018, he was one of India’s highest impact bowlers in the format and claimed 44 wickets in just 27 matches at a strike rate of 14.3 and economy rate of 7.81 - thus, not only was he picking wickets but also was phenomenally restrictive in the format. He was India’s playmaker with the ball in the middle overs.
Chahal - the T20I bowler also went off the boil completely post 2019. Since then he has taken just 18 wickets in 21 matches at an average of 41.66, strike rate of 27.3 and economy rate of 9.14. This is a massive fall for the leg break/googly bowler - he is neither picking the big opposition wickets for India in the middle overs nor is he able to control the flow of runs.
His poor run in international cricket since 2019 has meant that he has been in and out of the Indian XI in both ODIs and T20Is and this seems to have also adversely affected his performance in the IPL. Chahal remained RCB’s go-to bowler in the middle overs throughout 2019 and 2020 bagging 18 and 21 wickets at an economy rate of 7.82 and 7.08. But his form went completely haywire in 2021 and he could just manage 4 wickets in 7 matches while also conceding at 8.26 runs per over in the truncated season.
On form given his recent exploits in international cricket and the IPL, Chahal should not be the first-choice leg spinner for India in Sri Lanka. The only thing which works in his favour is his experience but the 30- year old has been given enough chances in the last couple of years and has failed to deliver. Does the team management want to give one last chance to Chahal keeping in mind what he has done in the past? Do they think that India needs a quality leg spinner for the upcoming World T20 and someone who has proved himself on the big stage?
Starting with Chahal will be a surprising and conservative move by the Indian think-tank as they already have someone of the calibre of Rahul Chahar in the squad - who is all but 21 and demonstrated his prowess with the ball consistently for the Mumbai Indians and with two successive World T20s to be followed by the World Cup in India in 2023, now is the ideal time to nurture and encourage the Rajasthan-born leg spinner.
The Case For Rahul Chahar
Rahul Chahar was the leading wicket-taker amongst the spinners in IPL 2021 and returned with 11 wickets in 7 matches at a strike rate of 15.2. Not only did he take quality opposition wickets but also was very restrictive giving away just 7.21 runs per over.
Chahar has been the unsung hero for the Mumbai Indians and played a leading role with the ball for them both in 2019 and 2020 - he returned with 13 wickets at an economy rate of 6.55 in 2019 and 15 wickets in the UAE last year. Overall, between 2019-2021, the leg spinner has picked 39 wickets in 35 matches for the Mumbai Indians at a strike rate of 19.69 and economy rate of 7.37 - these are brilliant figures for a bowler who is mostly considered a support act to the other superstars in the team - the likes of Bumrah, Boult, Malinga etc.
Chahar’s good showing in domestic cricket and in the IPL gave him a place in India’s T20I XI in the Caribbean in 2019. He has represented the country in three T20Is but is yet to make his ODI debut.
Overall, Chahar has a tally of 78 T20 wickets in 64 matches at a strike rate of 17.7 and economy rate of 7.39. Chahal has a strike rate of 19.4 and economy rate of 7.63 in T20 cricket but of course has the experience of playing more than three times the number of matches. It is the same story in List A cricket too - Chahar has a marginally better average and strike rate than Chahal in the 50-over format too!
Chahar first made headlines in the 2018-19 Vijay Hazare Trophy for India where he returned as the leading wicket-taker for Rajasthan and the third-highest overall with 20 wickets in 9 matches at a strike rate of 24.5 and economy rate of 4.28 in the competition. He showed his prowess in the country’s premier domestic T20 competition too - the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy where he picked 11 wickets in 8 matches at an economy rate of 7.3 in 2019-20. He was the highest wicket-taker for Rajasthan in 2021 with 11 wickets in 5 matches at a strike rate of 10.9 and economy rate of 6.55.
Throughout his T20 career, his two quintessential qualities of picking wickets and restricting the opposition batsmen have stood out - which is a remarkable feat for a young and budding leg spinner.
The other reason why Chahar is a big investment for India is the vacancy for a quality leg spinner in the Indian Test contingent. The team has not had a leg spinner since Amit Mishra in 2016 and giving Chahar a long rope in limited overs cricket will be the first step towards ensuring that India fills that void in Test cricket.
A good confidence boosting performance in Sri Lanka and Chahar can turn out to be a real match-winner for India in limited overs cricket - with two World T20s and a World Cup on schedule in the next two and a half years, Chahar could be one of India’s trump cards with the ball.
In the end, the choice really will boil down to choosing experience or giving a talented in-form young leg spinner a chance to prove himself at the biggest stage and cement a place in the Indian XI - a chance that he thoroughly deserves.