The art of left-arm unorthodox spin bowling, more commonly known as 'the Chinaman' is perhaps the rarest form of bowling practiced in cricket. While names such as Garry Sobers, Paul Adams and Brad Hogg among the more famous ones associated with the art, there are, sadly, hardly any names coming up from the cricket-crazy country of India.
A certain Kuldeep Yadav, arguably the first Chinaman bowler to play men's senior-level cricket in India (Preeti 'Dolly' Dimri being the only Indian woman cricketer), intends to change that notion. The 22-year-old from Uttar Pradesh has certainly come a long way to earn a call-up into the Test squad, and given the way he is putting in the hard yards, his big debut could happen sooner than expected.
Kuldeep, who first got noticed during the U-19 World Cup in 2014, gave a glimpse of what he is capable of while making his debut in the Indian Premier League (IPL) last year. Even though he only got three opportunities in the entire tournament, given the overflow of spinners in the franchise, Kuldeep made it count when it mattered. He put up decent performances in two of the three games that he took part in for Kolkata Knight Riders, including a haul of 3/35 in the eliminator against Sunrisers Hyderabad.
Kuldeep certainly made the most of his talent later that year during the Duleep Trophy, topping the bowling charts with 17 wickets at an average of 27.88, including a haul of 6/88 in the opening match of the tournament. What was more impressive about his haul was the fact that he got the wickets while bowling with the pink ball under the lights, with the dew making life difficult for the spinners as far as gripping the ball is concerned. Among the factors he credited his Duleep performances to were the tips that he received from India Red captain and flamboyant all-rounder in the senior team, Yuvraj Singh.
One thing led to another, and he was able to carry that form over to the Ranji Trophy that followed. Kuldeep went on to collect 35 wickets in eight matches at 27.42, which saw his fortunes rising as far as his chances of national selection were concerned, even as that of Uttar Pradesh seemed to be on the decline.
However, it was his haul of 5/60 for India A against the visiting Englishmen that perhaps might have caught maximum eyeballs. Playing under MS Dhoni's leadership for the first time, Kuldeep displayed the acumen necessary to shine at this level, and his five-for helped India put up some fight in the warm-up match that otherwise easily belonged to the visitors.
Foxing the likes of Jason Roy, Alex Hales and Jos Buttler in that game might have led to the selectors including him in the squad for the one-off Test against Bangladesh earlier this month. And even though he was not considered for that match, with captain Virat Kohli and the team management opting for three pacers, he was retained for the squad for the Pune and Bengaluru Tests against Australia.
Except Kuldeep's case is something that nearly did not happen. Afterall, young Kuldeep wanted to become a left-arm fast-bowler along the lines of his idol Wasim Akram. Kuldeep's childhood coach Kapil Pandey though, and asked him to switch to spin.
For starters, Kuldeep was not even aware of the term 'Chinaman'. However, it did not take long for him to take to the art like duck to water. Wasim was eventually replaced by Shane Warne as Kuldeep's idol. Even though Warne bowled with a different arm, Kuldeep learnt a lot from him by mirroring his action. Further inputs from the likes of Hogg and Indian spin legend Anil Kumble have also helped shape Kuldeep into the bowler that he is right now.
Among his most memorable moments, is his dismissal of Sachin Tendulkar in the nets, with the Indian batting maestro failing to pick his normal Chinaman delivery of his, edging it onto his stumps. There can be fewer confidence-boosters for a budding bowler than dismissing someone of Tendulkar's calibre, even if it happens to take place in the nets.
Coming back to the Australia Tests, chances of his selection look bleak due to the presence of another Yadav in the team — Jayant. The latter's batting skills, having notched up a century against England in Mumbai recently, only makes him the likelier candidate for selection.
Kuldeep will not be one to lose out on hope though, as the big debut could be knocking on his door sooner than expected, especially if Australia surrender the series early and the think-tank decide to test the bench strength. For someone with that kind of accuracy, as well as unique wrist action, he could make the lives of the Australian batsmen tougher than expected, given how most of the visiting batsmen are largely unfamiliar with playing slower bowlers.