Yuzvendra Chahal has made permanent spot in India's limited overs squad    Getty Images
Yuzvendra Chahal has made permanent spot in India’s limited overs squad Getty Images

You need not be attacking in chess (though some swear by aggression). You need not rush through the gears, either. You may lose a few pawns, luring the opponent into a comfort zone, forcing him to think that he is winning the battle.

Yuzvendra Chahal had represented India at Under-16-level chess. He now hatches a similar stratagem on the cricket field. If the opposition exploits his queen and bishops to launch an onslaught, Chahal s knights hide behind pawns for counteraction, trapping the opposition in an illusion. Chahal may lose his pawns in the process, but he has already had the opposition s strength weakened.

If the opposition has a good move, Chahal has a better one. These are mere analogies to describe Chahal s line of work. There is more to it.

Smother, strangle, choke, or whatever it takes

Leg-spinners come forth as aggressive. They are supposed to take wickets by the bucketful. But, is Chahal one? No. Chahal does not go for the kill, at least in limited-overs cricket. He prefers to smother batsman instead, enticing him to make the false move.

Chahal surprisingly has an accuracy that of a finger-spinner. He is shrewd and precise, much like Anil Kumble but with that extra half an inch of turn. More importantly, he knows his game. He does not have a wide range of variations, but he knows what lengths to bowl, and more importantly, has sufficient control to land them wherever he wants.

Lines are easy to maintain for bowlers. One can aim for the middle stump with a good-length ball, a half-volley, a full-toss, or even with a slower bouncer that loses its trajectory due to lack of pace.

Control over length, however, is another thing. If a bowler wants to hit the top of middle, lack of control will compel him to hurl full-tosses. It is not easy to land the ball on the correct length, especially if you are tossing up the ball. Mind you, he also has to control the turn…

Chahal belongs to that rare brand of leg-spinners who are spot on with line, length and extent of turn.

One step ahead

How does one control spin? Can one make it turn precisely two inches, no more, no less? Do you know beforehand that your leg-break will turn or hold its line? Of course, there are variations: if it hits the seam, it is considered a top-spinner; if it goes the other way, it is a wrong un.

But can one control the amount of spin? No. A ball can pitch on middle and go on to hit off. An attempted encore next ball may go for a wide.

Chahal is not a great turner of the ball. He can make the ball turn square only on dustbowls. Spin, therefore, is not his concern. However, he knows how to read the batsman s mind as well as footwork.

Checkmate

The third T20I between India and New Zealand is an ideal example, although it is one of many.

The rain-marred match restricted Chahal s quota to 2 overs. He bowled the third over, when the ball was new and difficult to grip, when New Zealand needed 57 off 36. If he pitched one in the slot, the batsmen would feast on it and the spectators beyond cow corner would fight for the catch.

Here’s how Yuzvendra Chahal set up Glenn Maxwell during India-Australia ODIs
Here’s how Yuzvendra Chahal set up Glenn Maxwell during India-Australia ODIs

Wrist-spinners are infamous for inaccuracy: why do you think Kuldeep Yadav was dropped after the run-sprinkling Mumbai ODI? The Chinaman bowler, too, was a part of this match. He had taken a wicket and conceded 4 until the penultimate ball. It was the last delivery that changed the equation: Colin de Grandhomme blasted a half-volley for a six. Kohli rightly deprived Kuldeep of his second over.

Kohli does not have to worry about Chahal. He gives him a field setting, and Chahal bowls as and where he is asked to.

On this occasion, Chahal was given a slip, a short third-man, a deep extra-cover and a long-off. It was obvious that Chahal would bowl outside off. It was also a gamble. What if he bowled wide? Kohli would have to change the field in that case, and Chahal would lose his confidence.

To make things worse, there was a left-hand batter at the other end. If Chahal bowled on middle and off, Glenn Phillips would slog it with that arc.

But nothing of that sorts happened. Chahal troubled Kane Williamson as much as he irked Phillips with the outside-off-stump ploy. He conceded a mere 5 runs off the over, ensuring pressure mounted on the New Zealanders.

Kohli removed the slip for Chahal s last over. There were two new batsmen at the crease. De Grandhomme had savaged Kuldeep in the last over, and Henry Nicholls can manufacture a shot at the last moment.

But Chahal continued flummoxing the New Zealanders. It was a better over: 1, 0, 0, 1, 0, 1.

He bowled flatter this time. Even if one decided to reverse-sweep, the quicker ones would have beaten him all ends up.

He did not bowl full: he knew that would allow the batsmen to get under it and loft.

He did not bowl short, preventing the square-cut between backward-point and short third-man. The batsman could still punch it, but Kohli had a deep extra-cover in place. The only option was to clear the off-side fence with a back-foot punch, a tall task even for someone like the brutal de Grandhomme.

The New Zealanders could also have hit them down the ground; it was just that they could not anticipate the turn. The ball either beat the bat or hit the inside edge whenever they attempted to play straight. The lengths were just perfect, and Chahal had them checkmated.

A bowler you may not remember

Chahal had produced the best bowling figures by an Indian in T20Is. At M Chinnaswamy Stadium, England lost 8 wickets for 8 runs. He was the wrecker-in-chief, taking 6 for 25.

Chahal is that kind of a bowler who gives an impression that you can hit him for plenty. You may do that, but he is a devil in disguise. He may lose his pawns in the process, but in the process he figures out where the batsman s strengths and weaknesses lie. Then his knights would emerge, and reduce the opposition queen and bishops glory shot to their last gasp.

Yuzvendra Chahal: From IPL to Zimbabawe tour
Yuzvendra Chahal: From IPL to Zimbabawe tour

Chahal does not usually run through sides (though England would disagree). He probably does not aim for it, either. The wickets column would not reveal the kind of bowler he is, but it is often the case that the bowlers work well in tandem with him. Chahal blocks and smothers and strangles as the other bowler reaps benefits and takes wickets. He is a bowler you may not remember, for he may not appear in the wicket-taking charts.

Chahal will live in the moments, the one that brought Indian back into the game, the one that was the turning point. He will get the awards that the sponsors like to prefix player of the match with its brand name (CricketCountry Player of the Match, if we ever sponsor).

Sadly, he will rarely be named Player of the Match, for he will rarely take five wickets. Figures of 10-2-31-2 don t look cool on the scorecard, though in an era when economy rates of 6 are acceptable, they will often be unknowingly, immeasurably, ungratefully enough to checkmate the batters.