Kuldeep Yadav's hat-trick may transcend formats and realms
He's the talk of the town, much like you're supposed to be after you pick up a hat-trick. In this writer's humble opinion, hat-tricks have got as much to do with your luck as with the kind of deliveries you bowl and the batsman you're bowling at. But those are just trivialities of the game that come with almost every other cricketing achievement, and hence, they must be ignored. What matters for Kuldeep Yadav and for India at large is that this hat-trick has transcended formats and for which Kolkata was only the last bit of the puzzle.
India have played 36 internationals (up until the five-match ODI series vs Australia) across formats this year and have fielded 26 players. Only nine out of those 26 have played all three formats, and Kuldeep is one of them. The others are captain Virat Kohli, his trusted comrade KL Rahul, Shikhar Dhawan, Hardik Pandya, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammad Shami, Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja.
That Kuldeep is the youngest of the lot shows the faith the new captain of the team has in the 22-year-old, so much so that he was a bone of contention between Kohli and former coach Anil Kumble. Kohli preferred Kuldeep in the XI for the Ranchi Test against Australia whereas Kumble wanted Karun Nair in the team. Everybody knows who had the last laugh.
And it is not for nothing that the left-arm legspinner (not a Chinaman, you see) has been backed to such an extent. His numbers form too small a sample size to be delved deep into and analyzed, but there are bowlers who don't last 11 ODIs after their debut. On the contrary, his tally of 18 wickets at 24.38, including a hat-trick against Australia, has propelled him to a position from where he can make Ashwin 'rest.'
In Chennai against Australia, Kuldeep staged a comeback after being dispatched for three consecutive sixes by Glenn Maxwell -- although by the time he came back to bowl his second spell, Maxwell had been dismissed. In Kolkata, he paired-up with Yuzvendra Chahal to put the breaks on an Aussie barrage and tore through the middle-order, with India defending only 252.
For all the talk about Australia's inability to read India's wrist spinners this series, they did take the attack to Kuldeep -- and Chahal too, on occasions -- in all five games. Maxwell hit Kuldeep for a hat-trick of sixes in Chennai, and was back at the tweaker the following game, this time hitting him for two consecutive maximums. On both occasions, Kuldeep was taken off the attack and was brought back on only when Maxwell was dismissed.
While Kuldeep is yet to level the stakes with Maxwell, that he possessed the ability to pick up wickets -- a hat-trick, no less -- after being hit out of the attack is commendable for a 22-year-old. In Kolkata, he was brought back in the over following the one in which Maxwell was dismissed. He pitched one too full and was driven through the covers by Steve Smith, immediately drawing MS Dhoni's disappointment from behind the stumps.
"Isko itna aage nahi," Dhoni cries that it's not the right length for Smith. Two overs later, Kuldeep repeats the fullish length, this time against Marcus Stoinis. The result? The same -- caressed through the covers. "Na, na, na," screams Dhoni from behind, again. Kuldeep shakes his head and walks back.
He's taken off after that over, again. To his advantage, Hardik Pandya, who replaced him at that end, dismissed Smith. Kuldeep is brought back on, immediately, from the other end this time, and bowls a quiet one-run over before wreaking havoc.
In his second over from this end, he first draws Matthew Wade across with a conventional leg break, which was just short of full-length, who chops it on back to the stumps. Ashton Agar misses another short-of-full-length ball and gets rapped on the pads while Pat Cummins is deceived by a googly, which was angled across the stumps.
More than the hat-trick, it was the manner in which it was taken and the circumstances under which Kuldeep picked those wickets that stood out. He was taken out of the attack twice, only to be brought back immediately after the fall of a wicket. When your captain does that, as a 22-year-old who hasn't played much cricket you might feel that you are being given safe conditions.
Your chin would be down thinking that the captain doesn't have enough trust in you to keep you in the attack. Perhaps T20s have made captains more haphazard in their decision-making. Nevertheless, to take a hammering early on in the spell and then come back to pick up wickets speaks of the mental strength that the cricketer possesses at such a young age.
He was in the thick of things again, in Indore. With Finch and Smith going great guns, Kuldeep had to deal with their ire, Finch in particular. 20 runs spaced across four deliveries in three consecutive overs -- with a couple of fours and sixes, from overs 30 to 34 -- would have forced Kohli to take him off, again. But perhaps the hat-trick in the last game had built enough confidence in the mind of the captain.
Finch had reached his hundred by the 34th over. Kuldeep bowls a quiet over -- the 36th -- until the fifth ball before being smoked for a six, again. It surely would have been too much. But Kohli persisted. Kuldeep bowls the 38th and gets his man. It wasn't the best of deliveries; it was full and flat, Finch heaved that over midwicket but found Kedar Jadhav in the deep. The leggie kept floating it up and Finch kept taking his chances. He was bound to fail at some point.
Kuldeep is taken off the attack, but this time it was after he had provided the breakthrough. He picks up Smith later in the innings and Chahal follows it up by dismissing Maxwell on the next ball. A projected Australia total in the vicinity of 350 is truncated to 294, which was to be a few runs short later in the day.
Kuldeep's figures of 2/33, 3/54 and 2/75 make for a decent read despite the runs being on the higher side. But wrist spinners tend to be expensive. Those figures might improve in the future, but what has certainly improved is the trust of the captain that Kuldeep commands. That hat-trick may have got a certain role to play in building that trust.
All in all, it is quite certain now that this ODI series against Australia series -- as had the Test series in February-March -- has helped Kuldeep complete a hat-trick of permanence across formats for India. The South Africa tour, fitness permitting, awaits, and it would then be seen whether this hat-trick transcends realms as well.