The shambolic loss at the hands of the arch-rivals spurred a wind of change for Virat Kohli’s team India. The skipper and team management had made up their minds – the era of finger spinners had come to an end as wrist-spinners began to rule the roost.
The likes of England’s Adil Rashid, Pakistan’s Shadab Khan and South Africa’s Imran Tahir had all finished ahead of Jadeja and Ashwin in the wicket-taking column for the global tournament. Jadeja picked up four wickets at the tournament at an average of over 62 while Ashwin’s sole wicket came at a painful average of 167.
So when India toured the West Indies after the Champions Trophy, the senior duo were dispensed of for the limited-overs clash with young Kuldeep Yadav being thrown into the deep end. The youngster performed more than admirably on the tour, picking up eight wickets in the four matches.
Since then, it has been Kuldeep and Yuzvendra Chahal who have become India’s two mainstay spinners in the format as series wins over Sri Lanka, Australia and New Zealand followed. The new wrist-spin twins are currently tearing it up on the hard surfaces of South Africa with 13 wickets them after the opening two ODIs.
In 19 ODIs so far, Chahal has picked up 34 wickets at an average of 21.88 and a strike-rate of 28.8. Similarly, Kuldeep has picked up 28 wickets at an average of 21.30 and a strike-rate of 27.3.
In comparison, Ashwin averages around 33 with a strike-rate of 40 after 111 matches while Jadeja averages 36 with a strike-rate nearing 44 after 136 matches.
The difference is crystal clear, India’s current spin pair are a more attacking outlet than the senior duo when it comes to taking wickets. Not only are the two wrist-spinners a far greater wicket-taking threat, they are also more economical than their senior counterparts.
With the wrist-spin duo only going from strength to strength, it seems the end of the road for Ashwin’s and Jadeja’s limited-overs career is near. The former is reportedly working on his leg-spin for the upcoming IPL, a sign of the times if one was ever needed.
As Aiden Markram took the reins of the South Africa side in the second ODI against India at his home ground in Centurion, parallels had already been drawn between his appointment and that of Graeme Smith in 2003.
Smith was just a 22-year-old when he was handed the Proteas captaincy and went on to become one of the finest skippers around in an 11-year tenure which lasted until 2014. Although, it has to be said, the gritty left-hander had 22 ODIs and a Test double-hundred under his belt after playing more than a year of international cricket before he made his captaincy bow.
In comparison, 23-year-old Markram had played in only two ODIs before Sunday’s clash against India. He does, however, have two Test tons under his name already having made six appearances in the format and more importantly, he remains the only South African to have won a World Cup in any age group.
Markram led South Africa to the ICC U-19 World Cup title in 2014, securing their maiden crown with a win against Pakistan in the finals. For a country which has notoriously underachieved in ICC tournaments, that win actually sticks out as an anomaly.
A natural leader, the Centurion-born man led the South Africa A side before being appointed skipper of the Titans in September last year. Being given the captaincy of a Titans outfit boasting the likes of Faf du Plessis, Quinton de Kock, Dean Elgar and Morne Morkel is no mean feat.
His appointment for the senior South Africa side has naturally divided opinions with many questioning his readiness for the job. The skepticism seems to be unwarranted though, for Markram’s ascension is not a short-term fix but rather some sensible long-term planning.
He might not even have been given the captaincy had AB de Villiers been fit. In fast-tracking Markram to the captaincy, South Africa are hoping to avoid a repeat of the post-Smith era which has seen the Hashim Amla and De Villiers juggle with the role before it finally settled with du Plessis last year in all formats.
With the latter now 32-years-old, it makes sense to groom Markram with an eye to promoting him to the full-time position ahead of the World Cup in England next year. While Smith’s appointment was one for the present at the time, Markram’s is one for the future.
As Mosaddek Hossain chipped his shot tamely into the hands of the mid-on fielder, Rangana Herath held his arms aloft. Hossain had just become Herath’s 500th victim in international cricket.
Muralitharan and Vaas are unanimously considered as two legends of the game, an accolade which has rarely been associated with Herath. The unorthodox left-arm spinner’s career has been a curious one. Having made his Test debut for Sri Lanka all the way back in September 1999, it would seem strange that the ongoing match against Bangladesh is only Herath’s 88th appearance.
This anomaly can partly be explained by Muralitharan’s greatness. Between making his debut until 2008, Herath only played in 14 Tests for Sri Lanka with Muralitharan untouchable in the spinner’s role.
Those 14 matches yielded only 36 wickets for Herath at an unremarkable average of 39. Since then, he has taken 373 wickets in 74 Tests at an average of 27. It is not hard to figure out why there has been such a great contrast between the first half of Herath’s career to the second.
For much of his international career, Herath has lived in the shadows of the greatest bowler Sri Lanka has ever produced. It was only after Muralitharan’s retirement from the game in July 2010 that Herath’s career truly prospered.
With 409 Test wickets to his name now, Herath is the leading left-arm spinner in Test cricket history with former New Zealand player Daniel Vettori a distant second with 363 scalps. His 33 five-wicket hauls is the fifth-highest ever and the most for any active Test cricketers. For reference, the great Shane Warne recorded 37 five-wicket hauls while India’s Anil Kumble made 35.
Unfortunately for Herath, his peak arrived at a time of transition for Sri Lankan cricket with the retirements of Muralitharan, Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara. Having lived in the shadows of Murali for so long, Herath has had to contend with an unenviable job of propping up a Sri Lankan side in constant decline.
Both these factors have led to much of his achievements being underrated. Who knows how highly Herath might have been regarded had he enjoyed the luxury of playing in the dominant Sri Lanka side of old but there is no arguing that his name deserved to be said in the same breath as the likes of Kumble if not Warne and Muralitharan themselves.