In India’s 89-run win over Pakistan in the 2019 World Cup, there was a crucial phase in the Pakistan innings. The chasing side looked good to overhaul India's target for a while before Kuldeep Yadav was introduced into the attack, and the match turned India's way.
Previously, India had set a daunting target, but Pakistan’s Fakhar Zaman and the prodigious Babar Azam were playing well. That was after India had lost one of their key bowlers in Bhuvneshwar Kumar as early as in the fifth over. With clouds looming on the horizon, there was also the possibility of a shortened game that generally favours chasing sides.
Evoking memories of that Champions Trophy Final, Zaman was toying with Hardik Pandya, and Babar, batting on 48, had just hit a whistling six off Yuzvendra Chahal. Taking wickets was the only option to get back into the game, and India needed something special to do that on a flat track.
On the last ball of the 26th over, Azam was on strike. Kuldeep Yadav went round-the-wicket and tossed the ball up at the off-stump. It drifted further, dipped a little, turned square, clipped the batsman's inside edge and hit the top of the middle stump. Azam stood dumbfounded, but he had to leave.
There was no better sight and no better feeling as Kuldeep Yadav ended a hundred-run stand, and Indian fans could now breathe easy again. In his very next over, Kuldeep Yadav sent Zaman packing, caught by Chahal off a desperate sweep.
After Pandya took a couple and Vijay Shankar one more, Pakistan were reeling at 212-6 as the rain came and went. India eventually completed a seventh straight World Cup win over their staunch rivals as Kuldeep’ Yadav's ball became one for the history books.
This was more than a World Cup match for the left-arm wrist-spinner. It was a comeback game, one where he had a lot to prove. And prove he did.
Both before and after this game, there was something apparent in Kuldeep Yadav’s statements. In a recent birthday wish Kuldeep Yadav sent to his former IPL captain Gautam Gambhir on Instagram, the player alluded to the confidence of the captain playing a big role in the former's performances
"To the man who always showed great faith in me and from whom I learnt so much about the game...."
After featuring in three games in the ongoing IPL 2020 for the Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR), Kuldeep Yadav was unceremoniously dumped by the franchise from their playing-XI despite the player not producing any particularly horrendous performance. So the player's birthday wish to Gambhir could have been a thinly-veiled way of expressing his resentment for being dropped from the team.
The rise of Kuldeep Yadav
A dewy-eyed youngster from Kanpur, Kuldeep Yadav wasn’t a fan of cricket. But when cajoled by his father to take up the sport, Yadav wanted to be the next Zaheer Khan.
Fortunately or unfortunately, his coach intervened, and Kuldeep Yadav became of the rare commodity of bowlers – a left-arm wrist-spinner. He rode on this mystery element more than his stats to earn an IPL call-up in 2013.
He sat out his first few seasons with Mumbai Indians and KKR. When he did get the opportunity in 2016, Kuldeep Yadav made sure he used all the wisdom he had gleaned from the likes of Sunil Narine and Bradd Hogg in the KKR camp.
Kuldeep Yadav was the silver lining for KKR who had an otherwise underwhelming season. His strong revs behind the ball, natural dip, and painstaking application of top-spin and googly variations made him a lethal bowling option. His angle of deliveries added that little extra to his resume, and suddenly Kuldeep Yadav was being extolled by erstwhile players like Erapalli Prasanna and Mohammad Kaif.
Impressive IPL performances led to a national callup, with Kuldeep Yadav making his debut against Australia in the fourth Test of the Border-Gavaskar series in Dharamshala in 2017.
The series had a lot more to it than cricket, and Kuldeep Yadav, replacing an injured and insipid Virat Kohli, didn’t disappoint. He took four wickets in that Test in as many different ways – extra bounce, bowling the batsman through the gate, beating the batsman's edge and deceiving the batsman through the flight. The variety and dexterity were for everyone to see as Kuldeep Yadav announced his arrival in some style.
Thereafter, luring the batsmen became Kuldeep Yadav’s mantra as he combined with Yuzvendra Chahal and wicketkeeper MS Dhoni to form one of the most iconic troikas in Indian cricket. The former Indian captain became the mentor of the two spin bowlers, and his whistle-stop hands behind the stumps complimented Kuldeep Yadav’s flight.
Kuldeep Yadav's drift
In the two years preceding the 2019 World Cup, Kuldeep Yadav had the most ODI wickets by any international bowler during this period since his debut.
Since 2018, Yadav has taken 45 wickets in 19 innings at 22.9 – the second-best among all bowlers. Kuldeep Yadav's numbers are only bettered by that of Rashid Khan who has had one more three-wickets-in-an-innings haul than the Indian bowler. However, Khan’s wickets came against supposedly weaker opponents than Kuldeep Yadav's.
Moreover, Kuldeep Yadav has the unbelievable feat of being the only Indian bowler with two hattricks to his name at the age of just 24. He is also the fastest Indian spinner and third-fastest spinner overall to reach the milestone of 100 international wickets.
In the shorter format, these figures move up to another level. In 20 T20Is, Kuldeep Yadav has garnered 39 wickets at a whopping strike-rate of 11.62. His economy rate is only a sliver above 7, and his average under 14 will give him a berth in arguably any T20 team in the world.
Considering all these laurels have come in a relatively short period, Kuldeep Yadav's success has been richly complemented by one other bowler - Chahal. With Yadav and Chahal, India’s ODI bowling has pushed the contours of what quintessential Indian bowling was supposed to be as the spin twins hunted in pairs.
Wrist-spinners generally have the propensity to have more off-days than orthodox spinners as the former have lesser control of the ball. It is during these rough patches that the confidence of the captain plays a gargantuan role in the performance of a wrist-spinner. In this regard, Kuldeep Yadav’s road downhill began in the 2019 IPL.
Kuldeep Yadav's dip
After a couple of prosperous years, batsmen started preparing specifically for Kuldeep Yadav.
Slick new machines were being used to create his delivery projectiles, and domestic left-arm wrist-spin bowlers were suddenly in an exigency as southpaws tried to copy that Shatrughan Sinha action. Kuldeep Yadav's slower speeds didn’t help as batsmen started staying back and played for the turn. Between all of this came IPL 2019.
Kuldeep Yadav had a middling tournament where he stretched one long-gone match to a super-over and kept the lid on the runs. However, three wickets in the first eight games were considered finger-full for his standards.
A decisive match was inevitable – either he was going to go for 50 or would scalp three wickets. Unfortunately for him, it was the former scenario that ensued in KKR’s ninth game of the season.
RCB's Moeen Ali went absolute bonkers against Kuldeep Yadav. In a score of 66 runs, the left-hander scored 56 off Yadav, with the bowler's last over going for 27 runs – scored by Moeen Ali in just five balls before he was out caught on the boundary. Kuldeep Yadav’s figures took a battering as they read – 4-0-59-1.
Virat Kohli had once said that Kuldeep Yadav’s confidence is his 'USP'. With his confidence seemingly sucked out, it was showing on the young bowler's face. He was dropped for the remaining matches and KKR’s campaign derailed as well.
The 50-over World Cup was the next tournament, which didn’t go too well for Kuldeep Yadav, barring that match against Pakistan. Chahal was used as the wicket-taker while Yadav largely played second fiddle. When the need arose to include an extra pacer, it was Kuldeep Yadav who got dropped for two matches. Although he was economical more often than not, Kuldeep Yadav didn’t look anywhere near his deceptive best.
Kuldeep Yadav accepted 2019 to be a tough year and acknowledged the need to be more prepared and have more tricks in the bag for batsmen getting acquainted with him. Post the World Cup, he played better and bagged his second international hattrick. However, just when it looked like Kuldeep Yadav was back into his groove, the pandemic outbreak happened.
Kuldeep Yadav's turn
Kuldeep Yadav and Chahal have always acknowledged the support of their captain – be it in international cricket or in the IPL – as a key reason for their success. The liberty to go for wickets even if it meant leaking some extra runs has always been the spin twins' success mantra.
The duo has been quite fortunate in this regard. Kohli and Gautam Gambhir have been known for their aggressive persona, especially while fielding. Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav naturally became the X-factors under Kohli and Gambhir, something that brought the best out of the two.
Dinesh Karthik, who assumed the reins at KKR after Gambhir's exit in 2018, is a moderate personality who is more attacking while batting but tends to be on the defensive side when his side is bowling.
After the poor show against Moeen Ali and co., the rationale touted behind dropping Kuldeep Yadav was to shield his confidence from breaking beyond repair in a World Cup year. That the logic didn’t work both for Karthik in the IPL and India at the World Cup isn’t important. The moot point here is the inexplicability of dropping a bowler at his nadir to supposedly preserve his self-belief.
Interestingly, the career trajectories of Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav have been pretty similar. Chahal hit the rough patch before Yadav did.
Chahal too didn’t perform well in IPL 2018 and the series either side of that tournament. When Kuldeep Yadav was munching wickets for fun, Chahal was struggling to find the batsman's edges.
However, during his rough patch, Chahal, unlike Kuldeep Yadav, has had the complete support of his IPL captain Virat Kohli.
The results are for everyone to see in RCB’s IPL performances this year. Chahal is still Kohli’s man and is still his x-factor. In a tournament that is favouring pace bowlers, Chahal is currently the second-highest wicket-taker while Kuldeep Yadav is nowhere to be seen. One may perhaps digest KKR’s decision to drop Yadav last year, but doing the same this year simply beggars belief.
In the three matches that Kuldeep Yadav has played in IPL 2020, he was costly on a fresh pitch in the first game, bowled only two overs in the second and took a wicket in three overs while conceding 20 runs in the third.
Mystery spinner Varun Chakravarthy was placed ahead of Kuldeep Yadav in the franchise's pecking order, and the former was then replaced by pacers in subsequent matches. Without any disregard to Chakravarthy and his skills, leaving Kuldeep Yadav out so early in the tournament should have had some stoic thinking behind it.
Eoin Morgan, who succeeded Karthik mid-season as the KKR captain, defended Kuldeep Yadav’s exclusion by saying:
“I think given the circumstances which dictate where the spinners turn the ball, potentially in the day game, the evidence showed that the ball didn’t turn a great deal, hence no opportunity for KD (Kuldeep).”
It is impossible to ignore here that it is Chakravarthy who relies more on turn than Kuldeep Yadav who is more dependent on giving the ball air.
Morgan seemed to have made a U-turn as KKR’s ninth match of IPL 2020 marked the return of Kuldeep Yadav to the side in place of Prasidh Krishna. Despite coming after a layoff, the left-armer's bowling looked sharp as he almost got David Warner out first ball.
However, KKR's trust in Kuldeep Yadav was probably not quite there to the fullest as he was given only three overs with the ball and that too, late in the innings. With Morgan, nevertheless, one could expect Kuldeep Yadav to get a longer run and more backing in the field this time.
Kuldeep Yadav needs to make a mark at this edition of the IPL. With two T20 World Cups in as many years to follow, and promising wrist spinners emerging, Kuldeep Yadav needs to keep himself in the radars of the national selectors.
It remains to be seen whether Kuldeep Yadav could still produce magical deliveries like the one he bowled to Babar Azam at the World Cup last year, or if his drift, dip turn and revs on the ball are enough to beat the outside edges of batsman's bats and hit the bullseye.Published 20 Oct 2020, 02:23 IST