Kuldeep Yadav trundles in to bowl, there is a leap, a twirl of the wrists and a slow-flight delivery is tossed up at the batsman. Ben Stokes gives himself some room, sets up a base and smacks the ball over long on. The ball is not pulverized, it could well have been, but Kuldeep is. He is standing all alone, desolate and looking lost.
A month later, he didn't even find a spot in the Kolkata Knight Riders' (KKR) playing XI. From being India's number one spinner in limited-overs, the leg-spinner is not even getting game time for his IPL franchise.
When India took on England in the second ODI of the three-match series in March, Kuldeep Yadav bowled his joint-most expensive spell. He conceded 84 runs and failed to pick up any wickets off his 10 overs. The 26-year-old was taken to the cleaners, conceding eight sixes - the most by any Indian bowler in an ODI innings. His last five ODI spells now read: 1-62, 2-84, 1-57, 0-68, and 0-84.
In an interview, Kuldeep did say that he missed the guidance of MS Dhoni from behind the stumps. Even as his batting prowess continues to decline, Dhoni remains a tactical genius when the conditions offer some assistance to the spinners. His ability to the read the situation and pass on information to the bowlers is the stuff of legends. Kuldeep said in an interview with ESPNCricinfo:
"I didn’t pay much attention to field-setting as well because Mahi bhai was very good at it. That’s why I never paid attention to field placement when I bowled with him keeping the wicket. He understood where the batsman could try to hit me and set the field accordingly."
When MS Dhoni and Kuldeep Yadav played together
MS Dhoni and Kuldeep Yadav have played 40 matches together, with the wrist-spinner picking up 87 wickets at an average of 21.74.
Now it could be a co-incidence or it could be what Kuldeep was alluring to. Dhoni understands the game, reads it well in advance, sets the field accordingly and the bowlers trust his gut and follow the plan.
It yielded dividends for Kuldeep - he was No.2 and No.3 in the ICC rankings for T20 and ODI bowlers in 2018. He further added:
“I learned about this aspect after I started playing with Mahi bhai. He would often tell me when I needed to spin the ball or where I needed to pitch it or when I need to bowl a fast one. I never felt that I was missing my coach, who used to keep pushing me to spin the ball more."
There is no denying the fact that the Indian dressing room and the team management have done some wonderful things with the side, especially the young players in the recent past. Kuldeep could be an exception as he had set the bar so high for himself. He was always a bowler who would loop the ball and never push it in. But as the figures kept getting expensive, he started to fire the ball in and lost the ability to extract spin from the surface.
Perhaps this is the biggest reason why he misses MS Dhoni behind the stumps as there is no one to say:
"Yeh aankh bandh karke rokega. Dusra waala daal sakta hai isko.” ("He is going to block blindly. You can bowl him the other one").
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