Young left-arm wrist spinner Kuldeep Yadav turned in another impressive display in his fledgling career against Sri Lanka on day two of the third Test at Kandy. In just his second Test match, Kuldeep snared his second four-wicket haul with a mixture of deceptive flight, menacing turn, and plenty of help from a hapless Sri Lankan batting line-up.
Despite Kuldeep’s impressive figures of 4/40 from 13 overs, it wasn’t all smooth sailing for India’s newest spin sensation as he started his spell shakily, often over-pitching and being driven and swept. Sri Lankan skipper Dinesh Chandimal took a particular liking to Kuldeep’s offerings before the left-armer settled into his spell and exacted his revenge on the opposition captain amongst the carnage of the hosts’ middle order.
In his short career in Indian colours, both in one-day and Test cricket, Kuldeep has proven difficult to pick from the hand. Part of this is due to the rarity of being a left-arm wrist spinner, but credit must also been given to Kuldeep’s skill.
As part of the successful Kolkata Knight Riders squad in the Indian Premier League, Yadav had shown of his array of skills and the impressive variety he possesses in his arsenal. But being difficult to pick and score off in Twenty20 cricket is one thing, as the batsmen are always looking to attack the bowler and are provided with very little time to assess the bowler and conditions, and almost no time to settle in.
Many spinners, most notably Sunil Narine of the West Indies, have been unable to translate short form success into wickets at Test level, but Kuldeep is certainly showing signs that he could be a long term weapon for India in all formats and even challenge the incumbent spin twins Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja for a spot in the starting XI.
Kuldeep’ success in the first innings against Sri Lanka was definitely aided by some abominable stroke play and shot selection from the home batting line-up, who appeared to be on a hit out or get out mission. However, his response to the early punishment he received from Chandimal will definitely please his captain and the Indian think tank.
In his short international career Kuldeep has impressed with his control over line and length, and his willingness to attack and search for wickets — a trait that makes him an extremely valuable member of the side, and one that should hold him in good stead when India travel abroad and play on less spin-friendly pitches. In particular Kuldeep’s control over his googly, and the batsmen’s difficulty in reading it, is most impressive and will make the Uttar Pradesh spinner an asset going forward.
It is too early to get carried away with the youngster’s early success, however, the impressive nature of his bowling should certainly be food for thought for India’s selectors as well as coach Ravi Shastri and captain Virat Kohli. Kuldeep has cemented his spot in India’s Test squad for the near future, but it might just be worth selecting him in the side at the expense of Ashwin or Jadeja when India play outside the subcontinent over the next 18 months.
With crucial tours of South Africa, England and Australia coming up, much has already been made about Ashwin’s struggles outside of Asia and the West Indies, and there is little doubt he will be given first shot at redeeming his poor overseas record, but playing a wrist spinner in Yadav might just be the better option and give India a greater chance at success.
Conditions in South Africa, England and Australia don’t often allow India the luxury of playing two spinners, let alone three, and while it would seem ludicrous to suggest leaving out the current number one and three-ranked bowlers in the world, there is some merit to playing a wrist spinner in less helpful conditions. Especially when your two main spinners have struggled in those conditions previously.
In Kohli’s first Test match as captain, he left Ashwin out of the side in Adelaide to play the uncapped leg-spinner Karn Sharma as he believed it was the most aggressive move and the one that would give him the best chance of taking 20 wickets on a flat surface. Buoyed by Kuldeep’s early promise, the Indian skipper might just be inclined to do the same when India leaves Asia next.
Generally a wrist spinner is more likely to get turn on pitches that don’t offer much of it, and one who has variety and control becomes even more dangerous in such conditions, something Kuldeep certainly seems to possess. Ashwin and Jadeja are both capable batsmen, and Jadeja is a livewire in the field as well — skills that provide balance to the side and might allow India to play both on overseas tours, but there is merit in leaving one or both of them out to play Kuldeep.
His career may be in its infancy, and he may fade into obscurity, but at the very least Kuldeep has now given India’s selectors something to think about going forward thanks to his impressive displays so early into his career. This is the kind of headache the selection panel will welcome.