Mumbai Indians, a team with the biggest match-winners, lacked a quality spinner heading into IPL 2020, but the massive rise of Rahul Chahar has not only helped in making the franchise a stronger unit, but augurs well for India as well, writes Sarah Waris.

The performance of Rahul Chahar in the game against Kolkata Knight Riders earlier this year in Chennai is all that is needed to testify the growing strengths of the wrist-spinner in the shortest format of the game. Not the biggest turner of the ball, the youngster’s confidence and self-belief came to the fore when he did not hesitate to flight the ball despite being hit for a huge six by Shubman Gill in just his first over of the game. The very next delivery after the six was a traditional leg-break that Gill wanted to dispatch for another big one, but the slight change in pace did him in as the opener was sent back.

Chahar returned to pick up Rahul Trpathi by pinning him on the crease, and then tempted Eoin Morgan to play a rash shot as he got the ball to drift away. Nitish Rana was Chahar’s fourth wicket of the night, as the latter got the KKR player stumped with a slider while Rana looked to play for the turn.

The Rajasthan bowler went on to pick a three-for in his next game, against Sunrisers Hyderabad, ending IPL 2021 with 11 wickets in seven games — the most wickets taken by any spinner. More importantly, he conceded runs at just 7.21 an over, despite the fact that leg break bowlers often go for plenty of runs as they look to get their wickets. Ironically, Chahar believes that he has been able to curtail runs by adopting a more attacking approach.

“In the beginning of the (2020) tournament, I was being a bit safer and wasn’t attacking as much, so Rohit Sharma told me, ‘You’re a wicket-taking bowler, you should attack more. Don’t worry if you’re hit for a six. I think attacking more has worked wonders for me.”

Chahar, who relies on bowling flat and looks to dismiss batters by varying his trajectory, pace and angles, has been the perfect find for Mumbai Indians following Krunal Pandya’s inconsistent returns, and the lack of options for India means he could well be in line to be the first-choice wrist-spinner in the side.

India’s mounting woes with their spinners

Since the start of IPL 2020, Chahar has picked up 26 wickets in 22 games at an economy rate of 7.84 and a strike rate of 18.69. Only Rashid Khan beats him in numbers among spinners, as the 21-year-old has edged ahead of senior pros Yuzvendra Chahal and Ravichandran Ashwin, and other fringe talents, Murugan Ashwin, Rahul Tewatia and Varun Chakravarthy. Only Washington Sundar has an economy rate of less than 7 in the last two editions of the IPL among spinners, but he falls far behind as far as his strike rate of 36 goes.

His ability to pick up wickets in the middle overs when batsmen are looking to consolidate has been seen in various domestic competitions as well, including in the 50-over Vijay Hazare Trophy in 2018-19, where Chahar rose up the ranks by picking up 20 wickets in just nine games. Overall, he has 64 List A wickets to go with 78 T20 wickets. He has an economy rate of 5.12 in 39 List A games and has conceded just 7.39 runs in 63 T20s.

The numbers present a glimmer of hope for the Indian cricket team fans, who have seen in amazement, and then in horror, as the duo of Chahal and Kuldeep rose to terrorise batters before their unexpected slump. The former averages over 39 in T20Is in every year since the beginning of 2019, with an economy rate that hovers around 9.2. He was dropped from the last two T20Is against England earlier this year after below-par returns, which only heightened the spin issues in India. Kuldeep has not even been a starter in KKR’s XI since his expensive spell against RCB in 2019.

Investing in the future with Chahar

Ashwin, one of the most experienced spinners in the world, is on a dream run of late, but selecting him will mean the side goes a step back than taking one towards the future. Though a formidable bet in Tests, Ashwin has not played white-ball cricket for India since 2017.

Despite the presence of a number of big-name bowlers in Mumbai Indians, Chahar has often stolen the show from the likes of Jasprit Bumrah and Trent Boult to tilt the game his team’s way. He did it against KKR this season, when he reduced them to 122 for 4 from 72 for no loss, which crippled them as they failed to chase 152 in the end. He did it against Sunrisers Hyderabad in the next game, ending with 3-19. In the last two years he has shown enough evidence to suggest that he can be the next big thing in Indian cricket.

His temperament in nerve-wracking situations is commendable for a player of his age, and if he can replicate the same in the upcoming series against Sri Lanka and in the second half of the IPL, there is no stopping him from sealing a spot for good in India’s white-ball team in the near future.

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