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Sunday, Dec 15, 2019

ICC World Cup 2019: Kuldeep Yadav bids to discover lost mystery in England

In the IPL season that finished last month, Kuldeep took just four wickets for Kolkata Knight Riders, 13 less than the previous season, where he was the team’s highest wicket-taker.

cricket Updated: Jun 03, 2019 10:57 IST
Aditya Iyer (Chief cricket writer)
Aditya Iyer (Chief cricket writer)
Hindustan Times, Southampton
File image of Kuldeep Yadav
File image of Kuldeep Yadav(Action Images via Reuters)

Before he comes on to bowl, Kuldeep Yadav doesn’t warm up by rotating his arms and shoulders like most bowlers do. Instead, he goes through the motions of his bowling action–the run in, the pivot, the flip of the wrist–and bowls invisible balls at the crowd. Usually fielding by the boundary, Kuldeep walks in alert as a colleague of his bowls to the batsman, and then on his way back to his fielding position, he air-bowls two or even three balls in rapid succession.

On the ground, this process makes for quite a spectacle, and often the crowd closest to where he is fielding tends to give Kuldeep a round of applause. During India’s second warm-up game in Cardiff, when Bangladesh’s Mushfiqur Rahim nudged the ball towards him at third man, Kuldeep bowled the ball back to wicketkeeper Dinesh Karthik from about 65 yards away. The ball pitched about 40 yards in, in line with Karthik’s left thigh and spun marginally, and Karthik collected it on the bounce near his right hip.


The wicketkeeper is not the only one to pick Kuldeep’s variations of late. Batsmen around the world have also learned to read India’s first chinaman bowler. In the third year of international career, Kuldeep is not quite flummoxing oppositions the way he did in his first two seasons, when he was a threat not only in spin-friendly conditions at home but also in fast bowling countries like South Africa and England.

The drop in his form is incontestable. In the IPL season that finished last month, Kuldeep took just four wickets for Kolkata Knight Riders, 13 less than the previous season, where he was the team’s highest wicket-taker. Even part-timer Nitin Rana, who bowled 25 overs less than Kuldeep this season, took three wickets. And those who were at the Eden Gardens on April 19th will tell you that he was on the verge of tears after getting smacked for 59 runs in his four overs against Royal Challengers Bangalore. On that evening, England’s Moeen Ali was especially brutal on Kuldeep’s bowling, smashing him for five sixes and three boundaries.

Unfortunately for Kuldeep, his suffering isn’t restricted to franchise cricket. During the ODI leg of the tour of Australia earlier this year, Kuldeep took two wickets in Sydney, none in Adelaide and was dropped for the Melbourne game, as the Australian batsmen—especially Shaun Marsh—picking him rather easily. This, of course, was a far cry from his tour of South Africa a year earlier, where Kuldeep sliced through the Proteas batting line-up often and for fun, ending with 17 wickets in six matches.

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The big blow to Kuldeep’s hopes of featuring in the opening game against South Africa came recently and in an unofficial game—India’s first warm-up game of this World Cup against New Zealand. In India’s low scoring batting innings, Ravindra Jadeja scored a fifty and because of that, captain Virat Kohli may just be tempted to play Jadeja and not Kuldeep as the second spinner to Yuzvendra Chahal. This has largely been a low scoring World Cup so far, and Jadeja will only bolster India’s batting lower down the order.

But don’t rule Kuldeep out just yet, for he has spent a lifetime fighting the odds. When he was a kid growing up in Kanpur, many coaches and even state-level cricketers advised him to take up the conventional art of orthodox spin. But Kuldeep lived by his sword and became India’s finest ever chinaman bowler. And it is this very fighting spirit that has ensured that each of Kuldeep’s top eight bowling performances in ODI cricket have come away from home.

The best of those performances came here in England last year, when Kuldeep ripped through the world’s best batting line up in Nottingham. With 6/25 in Trent Bridge, he recorded the best ever figures for an Indian spinner outside of India. This, just a few days after England had recorded the highest ever ODI total of 481 on the same ground against Australia.

Kuldeep tends to bowl with great intensity when he is confident and one could see some of that belief returning in his action during the final warm-up in Cardiff, where he took three wickets. But it was after dismissing Bangladesh’s Mahmudullah that something offbeat occurred.

Instead of celebrating with the huddle, Kuldeep sought out Shikhar Dhawan and the two of them had a quiet word. By the end of that conversation, the smile had returned to Kuldeep’s face. And when the over ended, he beamed all the way back to his fielding position, chuckling to himself and at the applauding stands.