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“With pitches are expected to get drier here in the United Kingdom as we go forward in this competition, wrist-spin could prove to be a massive factor for India”

The World Cup has barely started. But India’s wrist-spin duo of Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal has already made their presence felt in the competition. On Wednesday (June 5) at the Hampshire Bowl, in their team’s opening fixture against South Africa, the pair accounted for half of the Protea batting for just 97 runs in their combined 20 overs.

At the start of the day, it was indeed a gutsy call by Virat Kohli to drop his in-form seamer Mohammed Shami to accommodate an out of sorts Kudeep Yadav in the playing XI. The decision raised quite a few eyebrows in the fraternity, especially because it was cloudy and gloomy for the major part of the day in Southampton and conditions seemed ideal for seam bowlers.

However, Kohli always believes, wrist-spin is India’s prime wicket-taking option in the middle-overs. Perhaps, that’s why he went out of his way in his pre-match press conference to defend Kudeelp’s recent lean patch.

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“He’s [Kuldeep] a guy who has done so well in the last two years. I don’t think three or four games of a T20 tournament will do anything to harm his confidence, or hamper his confidence,” the skipper had said.

And when the time arrived, his bowler did not let the captain down.

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In a bilateral ODI series in South Africa in 2018, Kuldeep and Chahal had devastated the Protea batsmen. In five matches, Kuldeep’s had 17 scalps whereas Chahal had 16. Following that series, South Africa had introspected, re-worked their approach against wrist-spin. They thump Sri Lanka twice in ODI series at home and away. And it seemed like their batsmen are now better equipped to tackle the slow bowlers.

But on Wednesday, their batting was found out once again by the Kuldeep-Chahal pair.

When Kuldeep and Chahal began, South Africa were rebuilding the innings following two early losses. The first powerplay was over and it was an ideal time for Kohli to introduce Kuldeep into the attack. And immediately Faf du Plessis and Rassie van der Dussen looked circumspect about footwork. Soon Chahal joined from the other end and the batsmen were prodding, misreading the turn as well as pace of those deliveries and rattling middle and off.

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In fact, they were so much unsure about facing the spinners, people like van der Dussen got out at a crucial juncture, trying to play an ugly reverse sweep against Chahal. It seemed like his gateway shot, which was horribly executed. In the same over, du Plessis too was cleaned up by a quicker googly. David Miller and Andile Phehlukwayo were his other two wickets which came in a later spell.

“My ball was drifting pretty well at that time. So I thought that I can bowl the slider at that time on the off-stump, and it drifted onto the middle stump and he didn’t pick that,” said Chahal following the game.

At the other end, Kuldeep got JP Duminy out. The left-hander was shaping to sweep and changed his mind halfway and allowed Kuldeep’s quicker arm ball to strike him on the pads, right in front of the stumps. All of a sudden from 73 for 2, the quality of Indian wrist-spinners forced them to totter at 89 for 5.

With figures of 4 for 51 Chahal was India’s best spinner in the game. Whereas Kuldeep registered 1 for 46 in his 10 over spell, which should help him to get back in the grooves quickly. in their respective first-spells, the duo got the majority of the breakthrough, which broke the backbone of South African batting.

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“We spoke about the fact [South Africa’s recent record against Kuldeep and Chahal] the last time we played them, they were not that confident against our spinners,” Parsing the efforts of his spinners, the skipper said in his post-match press conference. “What we experienced was they were not able to rotate strike so well. They were trying to hit their way out of a situation which, for a captain, any day I would love batsmen trying to hit boundaries to get out of trouble rather than rotating strike because the risk factor is high.

The spinners together also understood and realised that that is the scenario and they bowled accordingly. I think Kuldeep bowled really well, he controlled the game from one end and I think Chahal was outstanding, the way he mixed his pace, the ball wasn’t turning so much, but even with a little bit of turn and help from the pitch what he was able to bring out of the wicket was truly brilliant to see.

“And breaking that crucial partnership and picking two wickets in an over was, I think, a game-changing moment for us, so both of them were brilliant in the middle overs.”

With pitches are expected to get drier here in the United Kingdom as we go forward in this competition, wrist-spin could prove to be a massive factor for India. Hence, other teams need to come out with a better gameplan than what South Africa had against Kuldeep and Chahal in Southampton.

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