From boasting the best spin duo of Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav in white-ball cricket to struggling to find even one quality attacking spin option in T20Is, India's stocks have been on a sharp decline of late. But the recent rise of Rahul Chahar presents promising signs for Indian cricket.
"In the beginning of the (2020) tournament, I was being a bit safer and wasn't attacking as much, so he (Rohit) told me, 'You're a wicket-taking bowler, you should attack more. Don't worry if you're hit for a six'", a very candid Rahul Chahar had revealed this post his match-winning spell against Kolkata Knight Riders.
Being a leg-spinner in the shortest format is an arduous task. Initially, leggies were expected to deliver only wickets but the likes of Yuzvendra Chahal and Rashid Khan have further pushed the envelope and exemplified that a leg-spinner can be as accurate too. Rahul Chahar has just been the right man at the right place in the Mumbai Indians' set-up. For a prolific wicket-taking side, they generally haven’t been heavily dependent on their spinners for breakthroughs.
Mumbai have been the most dominant Powerplay side in the IPL since the start of 2017 and have taken the most wickets (104) with the best strike-rate (22.85), among all the other active IPL sides. Also their death bowling has been among the best as they boast, arguably, the world's best death bowler Jasprit Bumrah. Since the start of 2014, not even once a spinner from Mumbai has touched the landmark of 20 wickets in a season, as mostly they have been required to do the hold up job.
Now, that has allowed Rahul Chahar to play to his strengths in the franchise. He's someone who's not known for being a big turner of the ball, instead he bowls flat, with heavy reliance on deceptive changes in the length, pace, angles and trajectory. But that has also meant that he hasn't been as prolific a wicket-taker as a certain Yuzvendra Chahal or a Rashid Khan. From the 2019 IPL to the lead up to this edition, he claimed 28 wickets in 28 games at a SR of 21.43. Chahal, Rashid, Shreyas Gopal, and R Ashwin took more wickets than him while only Ashwin had a poorer strike-rate (22.71) than the MI leggie.
As stated by him, a few days back, he even lacked the confidence to attack the batsmen and played it safe. But a lot of things have changed since the IPL 2020. The youngster played as a lead spinner for India in two T20Is against one of the world's best sides, England, and has been part of the senior set-up. And the confidence of playing for India started to show up this season when MI have required their premier spinner to not just hold up runs, but also deliver body blows to the opposition.
"I've bowled to the Indian team, the big players in the nets, and when you do that, the pressure is less in a match scenario. This is my fourth year with Mumbai Indians, and I bowl to some of the world's best hitters, so I don't feel pressure in the match,” Chahar had asserted.
And this season, particularly, in the last two games, with seven wickets under his belt, he has been the game changer for his side, and has proven that he can win games on his own. The wrist-spinner has been bold enough to flight the ball, and has trusted his plans well enough to deliver under pressure-cooker situations. For instance, the Chahar of old times might have fancied bowling flatter to Shubman Gill after getting smashed by him. But this time he wasn't afraid of being hit for another six and, unlike last year, backed his strength, had full know-how of the batsman, and got him. Bingo!
And that was just the start of what was going to be a dream spell for him against KKR. Rahul Tripathi was his next victim. The KKR no.3 tried to outsmart Chahar, trying to paddle on the second ball to throw him off his line and length. But he stuck to his plans. Result: Tripathi was opened up, as the ball turned a fair bit, and the right-hander was soon Chahar's second victim. Talk about backing your plans.
He then lured Eoin Morgan into a big hit by hanging the ball up nicely and the drift away, did the rest, as Morgan was trapped into playing a mishit. And then the most crucial wicket of Rana, as Chahar could pre-mediate that he would come down the track and to counter him, Chahar unleashed a flipper that skidded across. No wonder he ended up with his best IPL figures yet. As per ESPN Cricinfo, Chahar had 123.16 impact points, the second-best being Suryakumar Yadav at 92.41 points, and the difference illustrates the remarkable impact he had on the game.
The 21-year-old carried over his confidence to the next game against SRH too as he again spun a web in the middle-overs. When he came to bowl, Hyderabad needed 83 from 72 with nine wickets in hand. It had all the inklings of an easy win for Hyderabad. But by the time Chahar finished his spell, with figures of 3/17, SRH were in a spot with 47 needed off 30, having five wickets in hand, and the world's best death bowler Jasprit Bumrah to deal with. No wonder MI emerged as the winner with the leg-spinner again playing a key role in the win.
As of 1 PM, April 18, this is how some of the Indian spinners, who are in contention for the spot of a wicket-taking spinner in the World T20 squad have fared thus far:
As we can derive from the table above, Rahul Chahar is heads and shoulders above the rest. Barring Ashwin, who has played at the Wankhede, all others have played at the same venue. Chahar has the best ER and SR, thus far. In fact, he has even outbowled Rashid Khan, as the SRH leggie has four wickets in three games at a better ER (5.33) but higher SR (18).
India have been struggling to find a wicket-taking spinner in T20 internationals. Kuldeep Yadav has been going through a poor phase and isn't even in contention for the shortest-format these days. Yuzvendra Chahal's struggles for India are well-documented, especially from 2019 onwards.
As a result of his dwindling T20I performances, he was even dropped mid-way through the T20I series against England.Here's a look at how the Indian spinners have fared in the last 12 months in T20Is:
Given India's spin woes, this IPL is supposed to be a shoot-out for India's premier spinners. And after being hit and miss in the limited chances against England, Rahul Chahar has thrown his hat in the ring at a time when most of the other aggressive spin options are going through a dry patch. He was always known for his accuracy, but now has shown that he can also be a wicket-taker in the middle-overs.
Also, being part of the Mumbai Indians' franchise, he has developed a strong understanding of the game and can read batsmen and their plans better. His temperament too has been top notch, and he hasn't lost his composure and has shown a lot of self-belief under pressure situations as seen in the last two games, an attribute that can be crucial in a tournament like T20 World Cup. As early as it is, Chahar has shown he has the skill and the temperament, and so if he pulls off a terrific season, there isn't much that separates him from the slot of India's premier spinner.