Far from the eternal scrutiny of Indian fans, media, ex-cricketers, administrators and others, left-arm wrist spinner and debutant Kuldeep Yadav found his bearings, ticked all the boxes and became the biggest find of the tour of West Indies.
Effectively, his eight wickets in the five-match series came in just four matches; for his debut ODI was washed out by rain mid-way through target-setter India’s innings.
Kuldeep’s arrival was perhaps the best thing to have happened to Indian cricket. The team needed an impact spinner for the changed format of ODI cricket as neither Ravichandran Ashwin nor Ravindra Jadeja, two trusted bowlers in other formats of the game, were found effective. India did not really need a defensive spinner. They needed a wicket-taking bowler to complement the work of the fast bowlers.
Kuldeep fitted that bill superbly. To start with, his type of bowling is a rarity. Additionally, he had all the variations – chinaman, googly, top spinner, etc.
The extra revolutions and additional nip that a wrist spinner got from the pitch made him a harder proposition to safely whack away. Besides, Kuldeep, all of 22 years of age, was remarkably accurate for a wrist spinner.
The one ball that sealed his undoubted ability was what my former colleague, Chidanand Rajghatta colourfully described as “ball of the century”, ahead of Shane Warne’s magic ball that destroyed Mike Gatting and stamped a psychological hold over England’s batsmen for all time to come.
ODI rules mandating two new balls – one from each end – effectively meant that Kuldeep was bowling with a ball just six overs old. His top-spin delivered from over the wicket caught the drift from a line outside leg stump, drifted past right-hand batsman Roston Chase’s pad and flaying bat to smash into off stump. It was an awesome delivery.
For India, the bonus from the tour was the discovery of a bowler with the potential to become a game-changer. Of course, it is unrealistic to expect every tour or series to throw up an exciting talent. But every time that happens, like on this occasion, there is reason to rejoice.
Barring Kuldeep, there was little to celebrate from the tour. India were expected to win and they did so quite emphatically. Even the loss in the fourth ODI which injected some spirit into the contest turned out to help hone the players performance under pressure.
However, India’s batting woes, particularly in the middle order, remained unresolved. Veteran Mahendra Singh Dhoni continued to be the pillar. But others, Kedar Jadhav, Yuvraj Singh, and Hardik Pandya did not come up with a top performance. Dinesh Karthik came good in one innings. But it is unlikely that the selectors will invest too much time on him considering that he is already 32. In fact, there are too many batsmen in their 30s in this middle order: Dhoni, Yuvraj, Jadhav, Karthik.
It is possible that with the return of Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul, to name just two, some of those mentioned would have to make way.
Even otherwise, youngster Rishab Pant would have to be tried out in not too distant future. If he is indeed the batsman to look forward to at the 2019 World Cup, he should get at least 25 to 30 ODIs between now and then.
Another gain, if it could be said that, was Pandya bowling his quota of overs in nearly all the games. He needs to be given every opportunity to develop into a top-class all-rounder. He is a lovely striker of the ball and a brilliant fielder. If he can bowl effectively, he will turn out to be a tremendous asset.
Ajinkya Rahane, Sikhar Dhawan and skipper Virat Kohli batted to expectations. Likewise, there was nothing new to learn from the bowling of Bhuvaneswar Kumar, Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav.
Kohli called the series win a team effort. So it was, with virtually all the players chipping in. There was the odd good bowling spell or the batting effort while the standout effort was Kohli’s brilliant century in the last ODI.
The West Indies were not really a great challenge. The real test will come in Sri Lanka later this month. The Lankans at home have been a handful for all teams. It will be no different for India.