“I asked Mahi bhai (MS Dhoni) what I should bowl, he said ‘tujhe jaisa lagta hai wo daal (bowl what you want),’” Kuldeep Yadav said after claiming a hat-trick against Australia in the 2nd ODI at Eden Gardens.
Perhaps, by now, Dhoni has realised that Kuldeep indeed exudes confidence. Perhaps, by now, Dhoni has found out that Kuldeep is a thinking bowler. Perhaps, by now, Dhoni has realised that Kuldeep visualises a lot. Perhaps by now Dhoni knows that Kuldeep always has his plans ready. And perhaps, by now, no one understands Kuldeep better than Dhoni.
What Kuldeep's words post the Kolkata match epitomised was the confidence Dhoni possessed in the young Chinaman bowler. By the time Kuldeep had sauntered back to his run-up after talking to Dhoni, he might have already visualised how he is going to bowl that hat-trick ball and induce an edge off Pat Cummins' bat.
It was a delivery that would etch his name in history. He bowled it slightly full on the middle stump and lured Cummins into a forward prod. The batsman probably thought it was a normal Chinaman. However, it pitched and zipped away. By the time Cummins realised that he was foxed by the wrong'un, it was too late. Kuldeep had set off in wild celebrations.
Sanjay Manjrekar, while interviewing Kuldeep after the match, described it as the best hat-trick ball he had seen in a long time.
That ball was a testimony to the astute tactical brain that Kuldeep possesses. He is continuously thinking and forces the batsman to do the same: relentlessly ponder by keeping him guessing.
"The wrong’un depends on how the batsman is playing. Some of them are technically adept and play extremely well, attack well and will pick your wrong'un very early. So, I rarely bowl that delivery to them," Kuldeep told Firstpost in January earlier this year on being asked how he utilised the wrong’un. "But I always use it against a new batsman. I shouldn't be revealing this (cheeky smile) but it is said that when a new batsman comes to the crease, any bowler would like to dismiss him as early as possible."
Cummins was a new batsman, his hat-trick ball victim. Kuldeep did bowl the one that went the other way. The flight, dip, drift and turn inject venom into Kuldeep’s mastery. And most importantly he is intelligent about his pace variations.
"It depends on who the batsman is. If it's T20, then of course, it is important to vary the pace while bowling. You know that you can't bowl the same way every single time as you can concede a lot of runs. If you are playing in 'days' cricket, then you should bowl slow, give it flight, and deceive the batsman. It depends on what format I bowl. Let's say if I am playing in ODI, then it is a must to vary the pace and so is the case with T20s. In 'days' cricket I normally provide more flight because I like it. I sometimes do that while playing T20s and ODIs too," Kuldeep had said back in January.
Eden wasn't the first time Kuldeep has bamboozled the Australians.
On his international debut, in the Dharamsala Test, when the Indians unleashed their secret weapon in the form of Kuldeep, the Aussies looked as lost as a penguin in Sahara, against the Chinaman. You can play the dismissal of Peter Handscomb on loop forever and never get tired of watching it. Setting a predominantly leg-side field, Kuldeep bowled a lovely drifting Chinaman which castled the Australian through the gate. The delivery got even Sunil Gavaskar, who was in the commentary box, to exclaim: "beauty, absolute beauty."
— Hitchy (@hitchwriter) March 25, 2017
A few overs later, he left Ravi Shastri screaming in the commentary box, "That is magnificent bowling from the young man. Chinaman, Chinaman, googly, bamboozles Maxwell," as Maxwell was left stunned after his stumps were shattered by a wrong'un.
Kuldeep visualises a lot. He keeps visualising and that day, he had visualised Handscomb and Maxwell's wickets.
"I always visualise. I always keep planning in my mind that if I bowl this way, this is how I will get the wicket," the UP spinner had told Firstpost in the interview.
The description behind the process of procuring Handscomb's wicket brought to light his shrewd brain and ability to manipulate a batsman's mind.
"At first I showed Handscomb that I am going to bowl a wrong 'un. And I bowled a wrong 'un only, via cross-seam. Then I again held the ball cross seam, I showed him that I was going to bowl a wrong 'un, but I bowled one that came into him. He thought I will bowl a wrong 'un and went for a drive," Kuldeep explained during the Dharamsala Test.
Kuldeep had left even Sachin Tendulkar impressed, for the second time.
I am impressed with @imkuldeep18's variations and the way he has started. Keep going strong, this can be your match to shine.
— sachin tendulkar (@sachin_rt) March 25, 2017
Kuldeep exudes confidence in whatever he does. His strut and swagger command attention. And he did command it, from the Australians who, on the advice of spin consultant Sridharan Sriram, specially flew in Kerala left-arm wrist spinner and former member of Delhi Daredevils, KK Jiyas to Chennai, to bowl in the nets and help counter the Kuldeep challenge, even before the series started.
"He (Kuldeep) has played a bit since then (the Dharamsala Test). A few of the guys played against him in the IPL and saw what he did in Sri Lanka as well," Smith said ahead of the Chennai ODI. "He is a good, young talent and can be difficult to pick at times. He's someone who you have to watch really closely. Hopefully we can put him under pressure early in his spell and try and take him for as many as we can."
After getting the wood over Warner, dismissing him four out of five times in his career so far, Kuldeep's ultra-positive mindset did all the talking.
"If you are consistently getting the better of a player, you do think that you want to get him out as soon as you can," Kuldeep said at the pre-match press conference ahead of the Kolkata ODI.
"I think that he (Warner) puts pressure on himself while facing me, thinking that I might get his wicket," Kuldeep said. "I enjoy bowling at him, since I do so without taking any stress and along with the confidence that I can dismiss him. I come up with a proper plan as to how I should go about doing that. That's what I've been doing and, hopefully, I get to dismiss him as many times as I can in the remaining four matches."
In Chennai, Kuldeep received a rare hammering, at the hands of Maxwell, in the 11th over, conceding 22 runs including three sixes. In the next over, he bounced back to send back Marcus Stoinis. (By this time, Chahal had removed Maxwell in the previous over.)
It isn't easy for wrist spinners to continuously hit the right areas. But Kuldeep's control stands out. He's achieved that with incessant practice over the years. In Kolkata, he struggled to get his lengths right early on and was again hit for a couple of sixes by Maxwell. Till the 32nd over, his figures read — 7-0-39-0.
With Kuldeep, now you know, there has to be a comeback.
The next over went in history. He bowled three different lengths for three wickets. Wade chopped on a length delivery outside off that turned away viciously. Ashton Agar was then done in by the flight as he missed his flick on a very full Chinaman. Cummins was then done in by the one that went the other way off a slightly full ball.
“Initially I was struggling to bowl in a particular area in the first five overs. But later on I got the spot and the rest is history," Kuldeep said after the match. "It’s a game of cricket, everything happens. Last match, where I was hit for three sixes in an over, was a learning experience. And today, in the eighth over I got a hat-trick, it's like a dream come true."
Kuldeep's mental toughness and ability to bounce back was on display. And the ‘special’ hat-trick played a crucial little role in India's victory.
When Kuldeep's wrong'un caught the outside edge, Dhoni completed the catch and flung the ball upwards in rare moment of animation. Kuldeep ran, his arms wide in celebration, towards Dhoni and gave him a high five that almost went wrong. While all the euphoria was around Kuldeep's hat-trick, most missed out on the difficulty of Dhoni's catch. With a very little reaction time, he first moved the wrong way but recovered brilliantly to complete the catch.
The Dhoni-Kuldeep bond is developing into a special one. It dates back to January this year when Kuldeep befuddled the English batsmen with a five-for at the Brabourne Stadium in Dhoni's 'captaincy farewell' match. A dream come true for the UP spinner who had just one ambition.
"I was not selected for the ODIs but I was in India A, so I was happy that I got a chance to prove myself and finally my dream of playing under Mahi bhai (MS Dhoni) would be turning into a reality . So, I was really happy when I got the chance but at the same time, I was also eager to perform and to impress Mahi bhai behind the stumps. I was like, this is the match where I have to bowl well," Kuldeep had said about the practice match against England to Firstpost.
"I went on with my plan and spoke to Mahi bhai at regular intervals in between overs where he used to advise me on how to bowl to a particular batsman, whom to bowl slow in the air and against which batsman I should vary my pace. His suggestions were really helpful and it was an honour to play under Mahi bhai's captaincy. I got to learn a lot how he keeps calm and cool under pressure and the way he handles the bowlers is amazing. As I kept on taking wickets, he was getting happy. Everything was going according to the plan."
In Chennai, Dhoni was continuously passing on advice and instructions to Kuldeep and Yuzvendra Chahal. And Dhoni's impact on Kuldeep has been tremendous so far.
— Star Sports (@StarSportsIndia) September 18, 2017
"If you interact with him, like I have been doing for the last six months, there is obviously so much to learn from him. I keep talking to him about my bowling. When I am playing for the team, then also I keep talking to him," Kuldeep told reporters during Sri Lanka tour.
"There is no one better than him to judge you because he is watching from behind the wicket and he keeps telling me what I need to. I feel very proud that I am playing with him and very lucky that I could be playing in his 300th game," he had added.
In Kolkata, Kuldeep wasn't just happy with his hat-trick but also elated that Dhoni backed his strength on the hat-trick ball.
On a humid night in January earlier this year, Kuldeep sat disappointed in his hotel room in a popular suburb in Western Mumbai, after not being selected for the T20 series against England. Seven months later, he is all smiles and celebrations after becoming just the third Indian bowler to scalp a hat-trick in ODIs. Kuldeep's meteoric rise has imbued excitement in the Indian cricketing circles.
Back in 2001, a young spinner bamboozled the Aussies on a hot afternoon at the Eden Gardens to enter the history books, 16 years down the line; it's a sense of deja vu for Australia and India seem to have unearthed another star in the making in form of Kuldeep.