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Chahal in action against England
Chahal in action against England

The M Chinnaswamy Stadium has a reputation for sixes. Big sixes. It’s a small ground and batsmen send the ball soaring into the stands with ease. Even mishits more often than not sail over the rope. According to a stat by Star Sports, which was flashed on screen in the pre-match show, no other venue in the world sees more maximum’s than this. You have got to feel for the bowlers for the violence they have to put up with.

On Wednesday at the Chinnaswamy Stadium, Suresh Raina unleashed five mighty hits; Yuvraj  Singh nailed three in one over; and  the cleanest and longest came off  KL Rahul’s bat landing on the roof.  But the mightiest ‘six’ of the evening was produced by a bowler,  Yuzvendra Chahal, as he took six  wickets for 25 runs – the third-best figures in T20Is – to pull the  rug from under England’s feet. In  a spectacular collapse, England  lost eight wickets for eight runs to  crash to a 75-run defeat.

The feat came at what is Chahal’s homeground in the IPL. Royal Challengers Bangalore mostly pride themselves in their batting firepower. And for good reasons too. After all they have Virat Kohli, AB de Villiers and Chris Gayle in their ranks. Among them they have scored mountains of runs and have been cited as the main reason behind the team’s impressive run in the past two seasons: making the playoffs in 2015 and finishing as runners-up last year. But the diminutive Chahal almost invisibly made an equally significant contribution. He has made the handicap that the Chinnaswamy imposes on a bowler into his strength. Rather than bowling defensively, the leg-spinner invites the batsmen to hit him.

“I plan that batsmen will want to go for their shots because it’s a small ground, so I have a chance for wickets. I bowl a fuller length, so I have a chance for lbws if they miss the sweep and reverse-sweep,” he said after being adjudged man of the match in the series decider. The Haryana native does get hit, but he also gets wickets. In the last two IPL seasons, he polished off 44 wickets. “It always feels like home. I’ve bowled in the Powerplay before in the IPL, and Virat has confidence in me that I can do that.”

Having set England an imposing 203 for the match and series, Kohli gave the new ball to Chahal. Promptly, Jason Roy reverse-swept him for a six. But Chahal struck two balls later with a fullish delivery that Sam Billings, looking to drive across the line, edged onto his boot, and it ballooned towards Raina at first slip. The visitors made a swift recovery and led by Roy, Joe Root and Eoin Morgan, they took the total to 117/2 in 13 overs when Kohli brought back Chahal for the second spell.

After keeping the batsmen quiet for a couple of balls, Chahal forced Morgan to swat a googly against the turn. He could only top-edge it to midwicket, where debutant Rishabh Pant took a diving catch. Chahal then removed Root with a flipper that rapped him on the pad. There was an uproar over Root’s leg-before dismissal in the last match that led to the umpire C Shamsuddin recusing himself from on-field duties in Bangalore. However, there was no doubt in Anil Chaudhary’s mind that this was plumb. It precipitated an English collapse we had seen too often in the Test series. Only the acceleration of the fall still took your breath away. Jasprit Bumrah removed Jos Buttler in the next over, while Chahal returned to take three more wickets in the next over to cap a scarcely believable second spell that read 2 overs-6 runs-5 wickets.

The Men in Blue are champions again
The Men in Blue are champions again

Before the start of the T20I series, Yuzvendra Chahal had admitted that he was nervous. This time he was not part of a “second string” side touring Zimbabwe. This was the real deal. He would be playing in front of the prying Indian crowds and against a strong white-ball side. That he was filling in for one of R Ashwin or Ravindra Jadeja was a different matter altogether.

His captain had gone as far as to suggest that even this potentially inconsequential Twenty20 series would serve as the grooming grounds for future Test and ODI prospects. Talk about nerves!

It was a remarkable achievement from the 26-year-old. Because it was not one that was achieved by sticking to conventional wisdom or core competence. Chahal bowled two spells, each distinct from the other, but displayed remarkable maturity in altering his plans as per the needs of the match.

Chahal doesn’t quite fit your bowling description for a spinner. By his own admission, he relies more on bowling wicket-to-wicket and with a flatter trajectory. It’s a style that hasn’t found him favours with the state side in first-class cricket but one that has borne him rich dividends in the IPL. He’s finished among the top-three wicket-takers in each of the last couple of seasons.

When he was introduced with the older ball in 13th over, the match situation had significantly changed. Root had added 62 with Eoin Morgan and the two England batsmen had just about turned the tide in their chase of 203 with a 22-run over of Suresh Raina. The dew had begun to take full effect and Chahal was going to be Kohli’s last punt with the spinners before his seamers returned. However, the senior leg spinner Mishra, with his final over, had given a template to bowl on the wicket.

“Since it is a small ground, the batsman try to play their shots, I planned according to that. Even [MS] Dhoni told me what the batsman was going to play. They played the sweep well and hence I bowled full. Mishy bowled well in the last match as well, looking at him I get the confidence to toss the ball up.”

But two deliveries was all it took Chahal to wreak mayhem in the English ranks. He revealed how the Morgan dismissal was planned with his captain. As for the skidder to Root, it was a return to his new-ball tactics.

“When I came to bowl, Morgan was batting. The way he was batting, he could have scored more runs from my over. I had to come up with something special. Kohli and I had planned to bowl on the off stump to make an impact. You may go for runs here because its a small ground but at the same time you have more scope of getting wickets. My plans was even if I go for 40 runs, try taking three wickets. I continued the same for the next two overs and it delivered results,” Chahal said.

This attacking mindset came for much praise from his captain, whose trust in getting Chahal back into the attack knowing that England’s middle-order would go after him was vindicated by that shrewd second spell that read 2-0-6-5.

“We have a lot of spinners who are not only run-containing bowlers but also wicket-taking bowlers. That is why I always back someone like Chahal,” Kohli said. “In the IPL too, I use him in most of the matches. He never says no to bowling with the new ball or bowling in the middle overs, so I mean having a guy like this is great. He doesn’t say no to any situation. “All I tell them is go for the wickets, even if you get hit for a six, no big deal.”

It was no big deal after all. For Chahal began by conceding a six but finished with a sweeter six of his own.