Why Yuzvendra Chahal is so deadly despite not having conventional leggie skills

Even though he's slow through the air, more often than not, Yuzvendra Chahal gets some zip of the surface, regardless of what the pitch is like AFP/Getty Images

Yuzvendra Chahal doesn't turn the ball a great deal, so he doesn't challenge the outside edge of the bat all the time. He doesn't have a quick-arm action, which can make a googly difficult to pick, so his wrong'un doesn't trouble batsmen as much as Rashid Khan's does. And, unlike most modern legspinners, Chahal isn't even quick through the air, which can make stepping out against a bowler tricky.

So what makes him such a force in white-ball cricket?

Let's look at his modes of dismissal - 25% of his wickets are lbw, 11% are bowled and 11% are stumpings. The rest, of course, are caught at various fielding positions. A total of 36% of dismissals from lbw and bowled suggests a lot of his deliveries finish within the stumps, and perhaps a lot of the googlies do too. But the 11% stumpings suggest he is also able to take the ball away a lot.

But Chahal doesn't have a huge legspinner or a threatening googly, so what explains his success?

It is his bowling smarts that make him one of the best in the business. It's not that he doesn't have the variations a legspinner needs, but what sets him apart from his peers is that he knows how and when to use each variation. And the fact that he doesn't bowl easy boundary balls makes him even more efficient.

Let's break down the subtlety with which he operates.

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Lines
Years of playing in the IPL at the so-called graveyard for bowlers, the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru, has taught Chahal an important lesson in the art of survival as a spinner - stay away from the line in which the bat is likely to come down.

He uses the drift to push the ball towards the blind spot outside the batsman's leg stump and then turns it in ever so slightly from that line to force an error. Since he doesn't fire these in, a batsman can't just use the pace and play the angle to hit over square leg or fine leg. The slow turner from that outside-leg line leaves the batsman with very few boundary options. Chahal uses the same line when the batsman steps out, since it keeps the ball away from the batsman's arc.

But that's not the only variation he has, in terms of line. He often pushes the cover fielders back and bowls a wide line outside off, full length. This pushes the ball outside the batsman's preferred arc for hitting the long shot.

Chahal moves between these two lines of attack frequently and that makes him unpredictable and almost impossible to line up. He bowls the straight line either when the batsman is new to the crease or to one who doesn't go down the ground that often.

Speed
Modern-day legspinners mostly bowl in the high-80s kph. Such high speeds ensure that the trajectory is fairly flat, so the batsman getting under the ball or stepping out both become difficult propositions.

Chahal doesn't bowl fast unless he is pushed into a corner and has run out of options. His strength lies in varying his speed to suit the demands of the situation. He doesn't mind bowling really slow even on high-scoring grounds like the Chinnaswamy and Eden Park in Auckland.

What makes his slow bowling effective is the fact that his speed in the air doesn't necessarily slow him down on the surface. For example, if Kuldeep Yadav or Amit Mishra bowl slow through the air, they don't get zip off the surface if the pitch is slow. Chahal, on the other hand, gets the ball to move swiftly after pitching on all types of surfaces. His alignment and his body moving in the direction where the ball is headed allow him to put enough revolutions on the ball to get zip off the surface.

Spin
Chahal isn't a big turner of the ball, but he does have the skills to bowl all three variations - legspin, googly and flipper - with a lot of control. He uses the drift into the batsman to accentuate the legspin. His dismissal of Martin Guptill* in the third ODI in Mount Maunganui this week comes to mind.

Chahal doesn't dismiss a lot of right-hand batsmen with googlies, instead using the flipper to good effect and targeting the front pad, which explains the high lbw percentage. He bowls the googly as a wicket-taking option against left-hand batsmen, and that's when he also uses the wide line outside off to his advantage.

While people frequently talk about how he uses line and speed judiciously, the length he bowls must also get credit. He pitches the ball full, at times really full. When you pitch the ball full, you open up a lot of opportunities to dismiss the batsman, and it's no wonder Chahal's strike rate is so admirable.

Right now it seems the Indian team is playing a draw of lots with him and Kuldeep Yadav. The fact that Chahal didn't play a single ODI in six months in spite of returning important contributions in every game he does play in is discomforting. He has the knack of hitting the ground running whenever he gets an opportunity but that should not be taken for granted. He is one of the finest spinners in the world and would easily walk into most international XIs. It's a travesty that he doesn't find a regular place in India's playing XI.

*Feb 16, 4:23 GMT: The article incorrectly referred to Ross Taylor's dismissal in the third ODI.