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Variations remain same, but I am wiser now: Chahal
New Delhi, May 17 - March 26, 2015, was the fateful day when Indias challenge in the World Cup ended with a 95-run defeat at the hands of Australia in Sydney. Almost 15 months later, on June 11, 2016, a young leg-spinner from Haryana made his ODI debut for India in Zimbabwe. The debut spell ended with a wicket in his last over and that was how it all started for Indias numero uno leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal.
While the first outing might not have been the most impressive one, Chahal stamped his class in a T20I game against England when he finished with figures of 6/25 - the best for the Men in Blue in the shortest format of the game. Apart from the wickets that he picked, that game bore testimony to the fact that he was no one-match wonder. And as India gear up for the challenge of lifting the coveted World Cup trophy in England and Wales, Chahal's role will be of umpteen importance.
Speaking to IANS, Chahal said that his partnership with wrist spin partner Kuldeep Yadav has more to it than their own abilities with the ball. So, there is definitely more to it than just hitting the bowling crease for the duo which has impressed all with their performances in series wins in South Africa and Australia in recent times. And that is the help and guidance of the senior members of the team.
"Mahi bhai (MS Dhoni) has helped a lot. He tells us how a wicket will play and so it helps us figure things out quickly instead of wasting overs on trying to understand the wicket. So that has been a big plus point for both me and Kuldeep," he said.
Stump mic recordings of the former captain telling Kuldeep and Chahal which areas to bowl in have gone viral multiple times in the past two years. But Chahal says it is not just Dhoni.
"Apart from him, Virat (Kohli) and Rohit (Sharma) also always look to help us out. I think in our team every person is their own captain and we all respect each other. So for me and Kuldeep, it was great that we came into a dressing room that had these experienced players who were ready to back us up," said Chahal.
However, the pair have hardly needed any backing since their respective breakthroughs. Chahal had made his debut before Kuldeep and so it is worth noting that since then, the pair have accounted for 159 wickets in just under 45 matches. Their performance in the third ODI against South Africa in February 2018 had led to captain Kohli earmarking them to be India's "X-factor" in the World Cup.
India went on to tour England and Australia in the months since. While the former's big hitting prowess overpowered them, India would record a 2-1 win over Australia and Chahal ended it as the second highest wicket taker for his team with six scalps. All of these wickets came in the third ODI and his 6/42 was the best by any bowler in Australia. If the fact hadn't already been established, it was now: Yuzvendra Chahal is a danger regardless of the country he is playing in.
The 28-year-old said that he had not brought any modifications to his bowling technique in these away tours. "I am doing exactly what I have always been doing for the past few years. I have not brought many changes to my game. The variations are the same, but I am a bit more mature in mixing them up now."
Chahal has also been working on the other aspects of his game. "I have worked harder on my fielding and batting. I always feel you need to always add to your skill set and that is what I have tried to do."
His teammates' reaction to his batting serves as comic relief at times and Chahal does not really mind having a laugh at himself. Evidence of this tendency towards self-depreciating humour could be seen when asked how many bats he would be taking to England.
"I've taken one each from Virat, Shikhar (Dhawan) and Mahi bhai. Rohit refuses to give one," he said.
This banter is also a sign of how well Chahal has integrated into the team. However, new places in a team always come at the expense of other players and in this case, Kuldeep and Chahal's rise has coincided with the fall of Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja's stature in India's limited overs setup.
While Jadeja has plotted a comeback of sorts after the 2018 Asia Cup and is in the mix for the World Cup, Ashwin hasn't played an ODI match since June 2017. Both continue to be regulars in the Test side though, which is something Chahal has not been able to break into.
"It is wrong to say that we replaced them," said Chahal when asked about the nature of his interactions with the pair whenever they are in the team. "They have played so many matches and have got so many wickets to their name. Comparing us to them would be unfair.
"I have not played much with Ashwin but Jadeja has never shied from giving me any advice or helping me out in any way."
The build-up to the World Cup always involves chatter about the conditions. With England being the hosts this time, one could be tempted into thinking that this could be a pacer's tournament. However, the manner in which England's batsmen thwarted Pakistan in the recent ODI series between the two sides indicates that bowlers in general may not have a great time there while former cricketers like Michael Vaughan say that you might find conditions similar to the ones in the subcontinent. Chahal, however, prefers to wait and watch.
"Last year it was a spinning wicket. But that was only last year and we will get to know for sure only when we reach there. Once we do, we have got two weeks to prepare," he said.
When a Dhoni-led Indian team went to Australia in 2015 in an attempt to become the third team after West Indies and Australia to defend a World Cup title, Chahal's was an obscure name, one of the many grinding away in the Indian domestic circuit in the hope of donning the iconic blue of the national team. Four years later, he is one of India's biggest weapons as they look to win a third title.
(Rohit Mundayur can be contacted at email@example.com)
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