From Ajantha Mendis to Sunil Narine, KC Cariappa and now Kuldeep Yadav, Kolkata Knight Riders have always had a penchant for the unorthodox. Only difference with the other teams was in how KKR have nurtured those who promised big returns.
Yadav is one of those spin prodigies highly praised by even Wasim Akram but not used as much to justify his talent. Sunday was an opportunity in waiting for a long time.
Yadav made his IPL debut more than a month ago against Mumbai Indians where he had dismissed a dangerous Mitchell McClenaghan. For a player who has been part of the IPL since 2012, it has taken a long time for Yadav to get a game. He had helped Uttar Pradesh win the domestic T20 title before this but it didn’t happen in front of a packed stadium and neither was he the replacement bowler.
On Sunday, Yadav came in place of Uttar Pradesh senior Piyush Chawla. The change said a lot about KKR captain Gautam Gambhir’s faith in his spinners. Chawla has turned the ball square, foxed a few good batsmen and can hit the ball a fair distance. To replace Chawla at Eden Gardens meant Yadav was supposed to be that trump card Gambhir has waited an eternity to flash at the right time.
“There was pressure when you replace a senior player and especially in the last round. But I was happy at the same time. The way I kept on bowling it released the pressure gradually,” he said. Thankfully for Gambhir, Yadav did what was required to yet again show that KKR possess by far the most talented coterie of spinners in the IPL.
At 21, Yadav is still inexperienced but the eight overs bowled by him so far showed he can be a mature bowler when the situation demands. Against a team that had three top-class left-handed batsmen, Yadav’s chinaman was just the stuff Gambhir needed. And it was unleashed at the right time too. After Sunil Narine had done his part by choking Hyderabad’s run-flow, Yadav was given the ball at a time Shikhar Dhawan was looking to accelerate.
His first over was a quiet one but that was mainly because Naman Ojha looked completely clueless against him. Six pressure balls on Ojha got to Dhawan by the time Yadav had bowled his third ball at the India opener. Frustrated, Dhawan swept hard but straight to Colin Munro at deep midwicket.
“I had seen some videos of Dhawan. I was trying to contain him with singles and twos and not allow him to hit boundaries and sixes. I was trying to bowl according to the field. I bowled a wrong one and got his wicket,” said Yadav at the press conference after the game.
Dhawan’s wicket more or less signalled the end of Hyderabad. But just to show he is not a one-trick pony, Yadav also got rid of the right-handed Kane Williamson by a delivery that sharply spun into his leg-stump. Yuvraj Singh did hit two sixes off Yadav in the 14th over but it wasn’t before he had failed to make any connection for two consecutive deliveries. For a youngster, that is huge confidence-booster. With this performance, Yadav seems to have earned his stripes and the right to be in contention for their next match against Hyderabad in the playoffs.
Kolkata Knight Riders have now fielded six spinners in this tournament. But unlike other teams, each of the six spinners has shown the ability to turn any match on its head. With their all-round ability, Shakib Al Hasan and Yusuf Pathan have been just what KKR needed to find the balance in their side.
Narine is back to his miserly best. When he was out of the team getting his action tested and mourning his father’s death, Brad Hogg played the role of senior spinner and bagged a match-winning haul of 3/19 against Delhi Daredevils. Chawla has been a cool head Gambhir has relied on often this IPL. And now Yadav has thrown his hat in the ring. It’s a problem of plenty, but one Gambhir would surely be happy about.