The five spinners picked for this month’s T20 World Cup – Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Rahul Chahar, Axar Patel and Varun Chakravarthy – cover all bases: slow left-arm, leg-break and off-spin. The UAE pitches are most likely to be slow and offer some turn, but not a lot. This is the shortest format and the brief is clear: do not allow batters to get under the ball and concede as few runs as possible. Here, miserly economies are as good as five-wicket hauls. Bowling speed thus often becomes an overriding factor – flatten the trajectory ball, and the batters don’t have too much room to manoeuvre.  This was the reason Chahar was picked over Yuzvendra Chahal. 

“You want a spinner who can deliver with more speed,” said chairman of selectors Chetan Sharma. “Our view was we need a spinner who can find grip off the surface at a quicker speed and while we had a lot of discussion on Chahal, we eventually went with Rahul Chahar.”

The UAE leg of the IPL hadn’t begun by then. Chahar’s inclusion was justified though, given he was the highest wicket-taker among spinners till selection day, with 11 wickets and an economy of 7.21. Chahal had picked up four wickets and had an economy of 8.26. But since the IPL’s UAE leg began, Chahar has taken two wickets in four matches and returned an economy of 7.73. Chahal has taken 10 wickets with an economy of 5.25. This may not have any bearing on how Chahar could fare at the T20 World Cup. But the UAE leg of the IPL has shown that while a quick spinner always attacking the stumps is a great idea in T20, conventional spin is alive and kicking too.

Despite not being picked for his lack of pace, Chahal stuck to his strengths. With returns of 1/23, 1/26, 3/11, 2/18 and 3/29 so far, it looks to have paid well so far. All three wickets he picked against Punjab Kings in Sharjah on Sunday were essentially danglers – two conventional leg-breaks to Mayank Agarwal and Sarfaraz Khan, and a tossed-up delivery to Nicholas Pooran. More than half of his deliveries were either full or further of good length. Compared to Chahar’s average bowling speed, which hovers around 88 kph, Chahal bowls at around 85 kph. He has not slowed down or speeded up between the India and the UAE legs of the IPL, he’s just pitched the ball in the right areas in this leg. 

The overall trend, nevertheless, is for spinners to bowl quicker through the air. 

“In T20 the grounds are smaller. Expecting spinners to flight the ball in T20 is a little unfair,” said former left-arm spinner Maninder Singh. “If you try to take wickets and get hit for 20 runs in an over, the momentum shifts. That’s why they are going flatter. If you are only a bowler and not someone who can compensate with the bat as well, you can’t afford to concede big runs in your first over.” 

Till Sunday, Ashwin, one of the world’s best Test spinners, hadn’t averaged less than 91.3 kph in the IPL. Patel averaged at least 93.9 kph as well. Both have bowled 2-3 clicks slower in Sharjah than in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, possibly because it’s a slower pitch. Chakravarthy hasn’t bucked this trend as well, averaging 95.4 kph, 95.3 kph and 92.1 kph in Abu Dhabi, 95.3 kph in Dubai and 93.8 kph in Sharjah. Quickest among the spinners picked for the World Cup though is Jadeja who has averaged 96.4 kph and 96.2 kph in Abu Dhabi, 95 kph in Dubai, 95.6 kph and 96.5 kph in Sharjah. With an economy of 6.76 and two wickets in the UAE leg, Jadeja has shown the template of bowling quick and straight in the channel works perfectly well. At the same time, spinners are also working on using pace in moderation, creating more variations as a result but not junking the conventional tossed-up deliveries completely.

The nature of the pitch is a factor as well. Chakravarthy, for example, loves bowling on non-turning pitches. 

“My style of bowling is such that turning wickets don’t suit me much. Chennai doesn’t suit me,” he said on iplt20.com

With the UAE pitches not offering much spin anyway, Chakravarthy is focusing on bowling in the channel, making the ball move away just enough to create confusion. Giving the ball air, however, remains key to taking wickets in the UAE. Like when Ashwin got the ball to spin to turn away from KKR captain Eoin Morgan, luring him into punching it, which resulted in an outside edge to first slip instead. Possibly because of his height that makes the bowling trajectory look almost always flat, Patel is often bracketed as someone who relies on speed. But against Mumbai Indians’ Quinton de Kock, he tossed up the ball slightly wider and made it dip on him just as he was connecting. 

“I thought he would try to attack me. I felt he would try to go over cover and that’s why I went wide of off-stump, he ended up slicing it to backward point,” said Patel after the match where he returned Man-of-the-Match winning figures of 3/21. “I think I’m varying my pace well. It’s crucial as to how you use your fingers to get revolutions, the body action is important. It’s all about how you finish the action, the amount of pace variations is the key.”

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