Yuzvendra Chahal Kuldeep Yadav
It won’t be easy to ignore KulCha altogether for the Indian team.

The Indian team is looking to finalize its squad for the 2023 ODI World Cup, which will be played at home from October 5 to November 19. If we look at the current squad, skipper Rohit Sharma, opener Shubman Gill, Virat Kohli, all-rounder Hardik Pandya and Ravindra Jadeja, and pacer Mohammed Siraj seem certainties. Fitness permitting, fast bowler Jasprit Bumrah and batters KL Rahul and Shreyas Iyer should also cut. However, question marks over the spin department remain. 

There was a time when leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal and left-arm wrist-spinner Kuldeep Yadav, famously referred to as KulCha, were an inseparable part of the Indian ODI XI. However, things have changed drastically following the 2019 World Cup in England, where both struggled. Both the spinners subsequently lost their place in the team. They have since returned, but the Indian combination changed in the interim. India have multiple spin-bowling options in the ODI format, with Jadeja’s return and Axar Patel’s rise. There are the all-round skills of off-spinner Washington Sundar and Ravi Bishnoi’s upcoming talent. As a result, KulCha have found it difficult to feature in the playing XI lately.

Kuldeep has the edge over Chahal?

If we look at the one-day careers of Kuldeep and Chahal, both have highly impressive records. Kuldeep has claimed 139 wickets in 83 matches at an average of 26.75, with six four-wicket hauls and one five-for. On the other hand, Chahal has featured in 72 ODI games, picking up 121 scalps at an average of 27.13, with five four-fers and two five-wicket hauls. Although there is not much to choose between the numbers of the two spinners, Kuldeep was preferred over Chahal in India’s first two ODIs against West Indies, possibly a hint of things to come, keeping the World Cup in mind. 

Let’s look at India’s spin-bowling combination with an eye on the 2023 World Cup. India will definitely play at least two slow bowlers as conditions in India during the ICC event will favour spin bowling. Given his quality as an all-rounder, left-arm spinner Jadeja is an automatic choice in the playing XI. That leaves one spin-bowling slot for either Kuldeep or Chahal. As of now, the signs indicate that the latter might have to watch yet another World Cup from the sidelines. Why?

Former India opener Wasim Jaffer made an interesting suggestion over the same. He opined that Kuldeep has an edge over a finger spinner because he is a wrist spinner. The former cricketer explained to ESPNcricinfo, after Kuldeep’s four-for in the first ODI against West Indies, “That’s what wrist-spinners can do – run through the tail. If you can’t pick him, then you can’t play him. Sometimes, to a finger spinner, you know what’s coming out. But, with wrist spinners, the ball can go both ways. That’s what happened. Wrist-spinners can break partnerships and run through the tail, and that’s what Kuldeep is good at.”

Interesting insight, and perhaps that’s what the current Indian team management is also looking at. But it won’t be easy to ignore KulCha altogether for the Indian team. Chahal has featured in 37 ODIs alongside Kuldeep in one-day cricket. In these matches, he has claimed 60 wickets at an average of 28.26, with one five-wicket haul. Speaking of Kuldeep, in the 37 ODIs he has played with Chahal in the XI, the left-arm wrist-spinner has picked up 70 wickets at an average of 23.47, with one five-wicket haul. Kuldeep has enjoyed Chahal’s company at the other end and the pressure the latter exerts with his bowling.

What do their recent ODI numbers suggest?

If we take a closer look at their recent numbers in the one-day format, since the start of 2022, Kuldeep has featured in 18 matches in which he has claimed 32 wickets at an average of 21.43 with a best of 4/6. On the other hand, Chahal has played 16 matches but has only managed 24 wickets while averaging 27.91, with a best of 4/17. 

If we compare their performance in India, where the World Cup will be played later in the year, Kuldeep has snared 23 wickets in 12 matches at an average of 20.60. As for Chahal, he has picked up eight wickets in four matches at an average of 24.37, four of those scalps coming in one game. So, while Chahal has not done badly, there is also a statistical reason why the Indian management backs Kuldeep over the leg-spinner. And if the latter continues to impress, things are likely to remain the way they are.

Chahal as third spinner – any chance?

The only way Chahal can get into the playing XI for the World Cup, looking at the current scenario, is if India decide to play three spinners in a game, looking at the conditions. However, here again, left-arm spinner Axar could get the nod ahead of Chahal. The former did a great job as an all-rounder in ODI cricket during the phase when Jadeja was injured. And considering what he offers with the willow, Team India are likely to back him over Chahal if the opportunity of playing the third spinner arises.

Batting is one area where Chahal has lagged behind even Kuldeep, who has shown drastic improvement in his ability with the willow in recent times. And as good as Chahal has been with the ball in hand, his inability to contribute with the bat has put him behind in the pecking order among spinners. Assuming Bumrah and Siraj are available for the World Cup, having Chahal in the team will significantly weaken the tail. During the 2019 World Cup semi-final, we saw how India failed to get over the line after Jadeja and MS Dhoni’s dismissals. Currently, things don’t look too bright for Chahal, although it must be said that, given a chance, he can make an impact.