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One of India’s most confusing questions in limited-overs - Kul or Cha

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Kuldeep or Chahal in limited overs?

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One of India’s most confusing questions in limited-overs - Kul or Cha

In 2015, one of India’s trending and the most confusing questions that prevailed was ‘Why did Katappa kill Bahubali’ but it was answered two years after. Five years after that question, Indian cricket dealt with a similar question, which of the two spinners to choose- Kuldeep Yadav or Chahal.

Rightly so, both of them have had a great start to their International careers, being pushed to the depth against stronger opposition both at home and abroad. Before the 2019 Cricket World Cup, the duo called as ‘KulCha’ existed together in the recipe of Indian cricketing masterclass but since the infamous encounter against England, only one of the two have made the cut over the other in the playing XI. That incidentally and strangely put a certain kind of notion and preconceived judgment on people’s heads, especially Indians fans that Kuldeep Yadav is more suited to the ODI format while Yuzvendra Chahal has been seen as a T20 head. 

This notion has been part of a longstanding two years in Indian cricket, owing to Chahal’s hysterics in the shortest format of the game. Notably, the first thing that comes to our minds when looking at Chahal bowl is his domination with the ball at the Chinnaswamy Stadium. Rightly so, his numbers have also supported his case in the shortest format with his brilliant economy rate that is topped with the glaring number of wickets taken at the batsmen’s paradise. On the other hand, the 24-year-old spinner from Uttar Pradesh has been seen as a rather mystical spinner, who’s variations has really impressed one and all across the world. 

But with both World Cups around the corner, there could only be one first-choice spinner for the Indian team but who? Let us look at it from a statistical point of view to begin the proceedings between the two. 

In T20s

In the shortest format of the game, Kuldeep Yadav has gotten a big hit, thanks to his IPL form in 2019 ahead of the big event in England. In the nine games that he played for Kolkata Knight Riders that season, he was always on the receiving end of a demonstration with 286 conceded with just four wickets in the next column. Moreso, this form certainly put a bit of jitter on the unorthodox spinner before the prestigious competition. But surprisingly, in the T20Is it has been team Kuldeep which has been on the win, thanks to its impetus numbers. On the international front, the 24-year-old’s numbers are rather strange and fascinating at the same time. 

Kuldeep Yadav is second best to Rashid Khan © ESPNCricinfo

In 21 games in the Indian blue jersey, the UP spinner has 39 wickets to his name, at an average of 13.76, which is just second best to Rashid Khan across the world as even the likes of Mitchell Santner has fallen short. In comparison, Yuzvendra Chahal is nowhere close to his competitors, at an average of 26.47 since Kuldeep’s debut. However, what has worked in Chahal’s favour though has been his remarkable consistency across the T20 calendar. Bowling for the Royal Challengers Bangalore at the Chinnaswamy, the conventional leg-spinner has the best stats at the venue. In IPL, the Haryana leggie averages 23.18 at an economy rate of 7.78, striking every 17.87th delivery. But more impressive is his control over the ones that look ordinary, which has made him a go-to-bowler for Virat Kohli

In ODIs

Nothing dramatic changes in the 50-over format, still remaining in favour of the Haryana spinner in all fronts statistically. For the Indian outfit, Chahal has of-course turned up more time than often in comparison to Kuldeep for a strong reason. The RCB spinner is more effective, affordable and a go-to-option alongside Ravindra Jadeja. Whilst it would be too big an ask for Ravindra Jadeja to be paired with the Kanpur spinner, owing to their obvious weakness of leaking runs which might tilt the game away from the men in blue. 

Kuldeep Yadav is not far behind in ODIs as well  © ESPNCricinfo

Especially in ODIs, there is a trend of India losing the game away in the middle-overs, especially against tougher opponents, due to their weakness in bowling. Best seen in the encounter against England, where the pairing of Chahal-Yadav helped India dig their own damn grave. So if stats are in support of Chahal, why is Kuldeep even in the picture?

Kuldeep steals the thunder

Virat Kohli has made it bold and clear, a bit like all the keyboard warriors and influencers on the social media do with all their words in capital letters that RAVINDRA JADEJA IS THERE TO STAY. That immediately eliminated the pairing of KulCha together in any encounter across all formats. Then, that leaves Kohli and the Indian management with the most difficult question- Kuldeep or Chahal?

Well to simply put it down, Chahal’s incompetence to pick wickets away from home in the shortest format has been a well-documented negative point of the Indian bowling attack in T20Is. Whilst he continues to rule the roost at home, his numbers away from the sub-continent are pretty petty. On top of that, Chahal is a conventional leg-spinner, which makes it tougher for him away from home because of the lack of variations. With batsmen around the world having the basic understanding of the leg-spinner, flipper and the googlies, it really ties Chahal’s hands up. And on the other hand, there is the KKR spinner who really has excelled during his short stay away from home. 

Both of them have a few things in common, the experience of playing away from home but only one has a superior eye over the other. The 25-year-old’s numbers are just incredible, even if we take off the narrative shades from all our eyes. He’s right there, up at the top alongside the likes of Rashid Khan and Mitchell Santer with both of them being rated so highly. In New Zealand, a condition where peculiarly he has been favoured over Kuldeep until now. 

Kuldeep Yadav's experience away from home gives him an edge © ESPNCricinfo

In seven games in New Zealand, the 29-year-old has just four wickets, at an average of 59.75 and it is not Test figures. On the other hand, Kuldeep really has taken bowling in away conditions like a horse to water. Across eight games in ENA countries, the unconventional leggie has a combined average of 13.6, picking up 11 wickets in total. Moreso with Jadeja being there to help with the control, the wicket-taking abilities automatically lie on the shoulders of the other spinner, which is exactly where the Kanpur spinner applies butter on his bread while Chahal likes a burnt toast. 

The Kuldeep-o-meter certainly has seen that the UP spinner plays exceptionally well in alien conditions, against gigantic opposition in the shortest format. That is exactly what has helped the management retain their trust in the youngster, despite his horrendous last season in the IPL, where he turned up and disappeared at the same time. If you look keenly, it is not the battle between Kuldeep and Chahal for being India’s better spinner but more of battle which would determine who is more suitable to his bowling attack. 

His variations and the ability to confuse the batsman left, right and centre and his stunning numbers in Australia surely point out that he would stand in as No.1 spinner in the reckoning for the World Cup Down Under. At the moment, while the Chahal board is blowing their horns in the right direction, Kuldeep certainly knows that Kohli might come in calling for his services if and when the T20 World Cup is around the corner for the simplest of facts, him being an X factor. 

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