Colombo will mark the return of the famed duo of Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal, popularly known as KulCha, to the foray after they scalped five wickets amongst themselves in the intra-squad game. If India can get their wrist-spin duo back to their best, nothing can beat the majesty of that.
Not too long ago, KulCha was THE thing. They were the phenomenon. The masters of their art. The differentiators on overseas tours. The X-factors. The men who had not only filled in the big shoes of Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja but had transcended the level of all the other spin attacks in the world. They were the benchmark. They were the wonderboys of Indian cricket. The fitting definition of spin wizards. Making wrist spin great again.
The generations that grew up reading about the golden days of India's much-famed spin quartet comprising Bishan Singh Bedi, Erapalli Prasanna, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar, and Srinivasan Venkataraghavan were finally witness to a eulogized spin duo taking the Indian flag to newer glories, right in front of their eyes.
Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal had turned into one of the great exponents in the redemption of the art of wrist-spin across the world. They were not just any other spinners. Their daredevilry and wicket-taking streak were winning India crucial games and series. The middle-overs suddenly got back its charm. India's KulCha symbolized the virtues of bamboozling flight, befuddling variations, outfoxing mystery, big heart, chutzpah and unflappable temperament. Let's take a look at how India fared with KulCha at their best
Since the debut of Kuldeep Yadav to the end of the New Zealand series in 2019, no team could even challenge Indian spinners given their world-class record. Indian spinners took 97 wickets more than England, the second-best in taking wickets among the top eight nations. The Men in Blue averaged 26.07, which was again massively better than New Zealand's 32.15. Similarly, their strike rate was 32.5, again better than all the other teams.
Let's take a look at the best spin bowlers during that period.
As expected, Kuldeep and Chahal took more wickets and that too at a better average than all the other spinners from the top 8 nations. In fact, they topped the charts even if we take pacers into consideration. Kuldeep Yadav was the real stand-out, with no other spinner matching his prowess and match-winning ability. Kuldeep averaged 20.64 when no other spinner could average even 25. He also took four wickets or more five times, while no one else could do it more than thrice.
It was the combination of Kuldeep and Chahal that turned India's bowling unit into an extraordinary attack. They combinedly hunted 118 batters in 34 games at 25.6 and struck every 30.2 deliveries, meaning they took four wickets on average in a game when they played together for the Men in Blue. Now let's take a look at how they have done with and without each other in ODIs.
Kuldeep's numbers turn phenomenal when he's paired with Chahal in comparison to the other way around. But what about Chahal?
Surprisingly, Chahal's number goes down and that too quite a bit when he plays alongside Kuldeep. However, things turn extreme south for the team when they field Chahal sans Kuldeep in the unit. In 18 games where Kuldeep Yadav hasn't played for India since his debut, Indian spinners have averaged a poor 37.35 with a strike rate of 42.5; Chahal has featured in 17 of these games. So when they play together, it does a world of good for India, no wonder the excitement among people at the very thought of them returning together in the series against Sri Lanka.
However, coming back to reality, the wrist-spin duo is yet to feature in a game together for India since the end of the 2019 World Cup, and it has to do with multiple reasons. It happened primarily because they tanked big time in the last World Cup and have been a pale shadow of themselves ever since. But the World Cup failure was inevitable, especially for Kuldeep Yadav, since he had lost his Midas touch, a little while back with the hammering in the preceding IPL, providing a bleak reality check. Chahal's decline was also visible with the last few series in the build-up to the ICC mega event raising alarms. Pretty much like Kuldeep, he has also failed to find his magic back ever since.
And there have been other unavoidable reasons too, which have made it difficult for them to play together. Hardik Pandya, ever since his surgery, hasn't been able to bowl as much, and that has made it extremely difficult for India to play KulCha together. Additionally, the 2019 World Cup turned Ravindra Jadeja into a crucial member of the ODI XI. And Virat Kohli cannot field three spinners at once, given, it will upset the team's combination. So, KulCha's poor run has combined with the other factors for their continued exclusion.
And this has completely shattered India's spin displays post the World Cup. Indian spinners have taken 33 wickets in 18 games at a horrible average of 58.63 with an ER of 6.10, and they have struck once every 57.6 balls. Notably, no team has averaged as poorly as India among the top eight nations. In fact, in the period, India have the 19th worst average among all the nations that have played ODIs. Take a look at how the Indian spinners have done in the period.
India's spin bowling has been inexplicably bad. So, things aren't going to turn magically good just because Chahal and Kuldeep play together. They are going through a dry spell individually. Chahal took four wickets in seven games in this year's IPL at 47.50, even when he played three games on the spin-friendly Chepauk. On the other hand, Kuldeep Yadav wasn't even considered good enough by his franchise to merit a place in the XI for one game. There is nothing substantial to suggest the coming together of the duo will turn around their fortunes or India's going into the World Cup.
And even if they do well against Sri Lanka, that will need to be taken with a pinch of salt. After all, Sri Lanka's batting is a big mess. Their country is going through the worst possible phase, and it has impacted the team's displays. Not that they were doing any good earlier. The way they turned up against England on some of the flattest wickets in the world was hideous. Sri Lankan batters have a knack for gifting their wickets and can make even average bowlers look extremely good.
So, there is a long way to go for the out-of-form duo yet. As much as the Indian fans and the management want Kuldeep and Chahal to do well together, given how unbelievably amazing they were once, and the poor spin situation in the country, jumping the gun will be the last thing that India will want in the World Cup year. And it would be better to assess things more carefully if the Men in Blue have to turn around their fortunes in the knock-outs of the ICC events. There will be a few performances from the upcoming series that might flatter to deceive, given the state of the opposition side.