It was during the tour of Sri Lanka earlier this year that both Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav made their cases for permanent spots in the India's limited overs playing XI ahead of the established spin bowling pair of Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin. While Chahal seized the opportunity with consistent performances in the following series against New Zealand and Australia respectively, Kuldeep failed to keep up with Chahal’s consistency.
The 22-year-old wrist spinner soon found himself out of favour on most occasions as other spinner Axar Patel was tried in order to form a successful spin bowling pair with Chahal. But, just like Kuldeep, he turned out to be quite inconsistent as well. India even tried the one spinner ploy on flatter wickets with Chahal being the only specialist spinner in the side. Moreover, the 18-year old Washington Sundar was preferred over Kuldeep in the second ODI of the ongoing series against Sri Lanka. And if Sundar hadn’t fallen sick before the series decider, Kuldeep might not had even featured in the team.
The reason other spinners were tried over Kuldeep was his rawness as a spinner. He was, no doubt, a wicket-taking bowler. However, he used to struggle in keeping the run flow in check while going for the wickets. He turned out to be expensive on most occasions and failed to exert pressure at one end. In consequence, it affected Chahal’s performance and his wicket taking ability at the other end as well.
However, with his match winning spell of 3/42 against Sri Lanka in the series decider at Vizag on Sunday, which also led him to be adjudged the ‘Man of the Match’, Kuldeep proved that he has worked hard on his bowling and is the best match to pair Chahal in India’s double spin attack.
The kind of consistency he showed in his line, lengths and flight throughout his 10-over spell had only been seen in patches in his previous performances. Even in the ODI at Eden Gardens, in which he claimed a hat-trick against Australia earlier this year, he had turned out to be quite expensive in his first spell. The hat-trick was just the result of a rare spark three terrific deliveries which underlined his talent and potential.
Sri Lanka were going all guns blazing in the third ODI as the scoreboard read 160/2 in the 28th over. Upul Tharanga looked all set to score a century as he had raced on to 95 runs off 81 deliveries. However, Kuldeep’s double strike in that over completely shifted the momentum of the game in India’s favour.
“We were looking for wickets in the middle overs and I got two wickets in an over that changed the momentum for us. Wicket was turning and working on m length. When I wasn’t getting games, I was working on my fitness and m bowling,” an excited Kuldeep said after being adjudged the Man of the Match.
The first delivery of Kuldeep's sixth over turned out to be Tharanga’s nemesis as it invited the drive after pitching on a good length. Tharanga was beaten by the turn and Dhoni affected a lightning fast stumping once again to get rid of the danger man. Niroshan Dickwella walked out to bat with a positive intent as he took Kuldeep for a couple of boundaries in the next three deliveries. However, a change in pace and flight on the fifth delivery completely trumped Dickwella as he guided a simple catch to Shreyas Iyer’s hands at slip.
Thus, the Uttar Pradesh spinner showed that he is not someone who loses confidence on being attacked. Instead, he senses that as an opportunity and goes for the kill with the help of his skill and guile. It is his attacking and wicket-taking mindset that sets him apart from the other spinners of his age group.
“Taking wickets should be a habit for bowlers. If you are not taking wickets, then you are an ordinary bowler and you are of no use to the team. Taking even two-three wickets is beneficial for the team and my bowling style is only about taking wickets,” Kuldeep had said in an interview to Wisden India back in August this year.
The most fascinating part of his spell on Sunday was his chemistry with Chahal. Both of them bowled exceptionally well in tandem and backed each other with their strengths. Pressure was built on the Lankan batsmen from both ends as a result of which they lost six wickets for just 88 runs in the total quota of 20 overs from the two spinners.
Kuldeep’s final victim was Akila Dananjaya who was bowled round his legs while attempting a paddle sweep. It was a flighted delivery and that resulted in Dananjaya getting completely outfoxed.
Sunday's spell has once again served a reminder that Kuldeep belongs to this level and there is no other better option than him at the moment, who can gel up with Chahal to this extent. He can form a very lethal spin bowling partnership with the Haryana leggie in the coming time ahead and can give India the much needed penetration in those middle overs.
Kuldeep Yadav isn’t anymore the raw bowler he used to be. In fact, he is improving and maturing with every game. And India should appreciate that and provide him with as much game time as possible.