If India were looking for a game-changer in ODIs, they might have hit on a very potent one in left-arm wrist spinner Kuldeep Yadav.
The 22-year-old Uttar Pradesh bowler who found success in his maiden Test in Dharamsala with a four-wicket haul against Australia, was impressive in his first outing as a bowler in ODIs at the Queen’s Park Oval on Sunday.
Technically, Kuldeep had made his debut in the first ODI on Friday. But that game was washed out after India, batting first, had their innings halted by rains. Thus, the second ODI at the same venue was the first time Kuldeep was bowling in an ODI for India.
Bowling in ODIs is increasingly becoming a challenge. The new ball, one at each end, is not conducive to swing bowling. It is believed that the current batch of white balls have been tweaked to make things difficult for bowlers. The lack of early swing and later only marginal reverse swing has hampered bowlers’ options. The spinners too are not having things going their way, especially after the tweaking of field restrictions whereby only four fielders are allowed beyond the inner circle between overs 11 and 40.
Thus batting sides are confident of chasing down huge scores. The only guarantee of defending scores of 300 plus seems to be by taking wickets.
The inability to grab wickets saw India losing the Champions Trophy league encounter to Sri Lanka despite defending a target of 322. A couple of good partnerships were all that Lanka needed to pull off that remarkable win.
On the other hand, Pakistan showed how wicket-taking could wreck a chase when their pacer Mohammad Amir grabbed the wickets of opener Rohit Sharma and skipper Virat Kohli in his opening overs. It completely derailed the chase.
It is in this context that Kuldeep’s bowling against the West Indies must be viewed. The 89-run third wicket partnership between the impressive Shia Hope (81 in 88 balls) and the left-handed Evin Lewis (21) seemed to be hauling the team back on tracks after the loss of two early wickets.
The partnership was threatening to get out of hand when Lewis misread Kuldeep’s top-spinner and paid the price. He stepped out to play a big shot with the spin. But the ball went straight for wicket-keeper MS Dhoni to complete a smart stumping.
The wicket threw the West Indies chase out of gear. A little later he trapped the sweep-happy Hope in front to wreck it totally.
The impressive thing about Kuldeep’s bowling is that he stays positive even when the batsmen go after his bowling. His brand of Chinaman, googly and top spin have an important role to play as his wrist spin and the revolutions he imparts on the ball enables it to bounce a bit more. Subtle variations can also get it to skid at an inopportune time.
Hope, for example, was sweeping the spin bowlers with great confidence and purpose until he missed a Kuldeep delivery that actually went under the sweeping willow to trap him in front.
Kuldeep also mixed his deliveries very well. Even if he went for runs, the important aspect of his bowling on the day was his picking up the three wickets in his quota of overs.
Of course, a one-match performance may not be the yardstick to decide his utility to the team. But there is no getting away from the fact that the present format of ODIs call for at least one wicket-taking bowler in the mix.
Kuldeep is young and hence has tremendous scope to hone his skills. The Chinaman he bowls is a rare variety of bowling in international cricket. What makes it more potent is his ability to make the ball go straight or the other way with little or no change in action or field placing. He has also exhibited admirable control in this difficult art.
In the immediate future, Kuldeep will face a challenge from other wrist spinners like Yuzvendra Chahal, Amit Mishra and others for a spot in the Indian team. And this competition is wonderful in the run-up to the 2019 World Cup in England.
For now, Kuldeep must be viewed as one of the most exciting spin bowling prospects on the scene. How he develops would be keenly watched.