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Kuldeep Yadav, India’s X-factor, awaits recharge

This season, while all KKR spinners are struggling, Kuldeep’s four scalps in nine games (in 33 overs) looks worse due to the average (71.5).

cricket Updated: Apr 25, 2019 08:47 IST
Khurram Habib
Khurram Habib
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
IPL,IPL 2019,ICC Cricket World Cup
File image of Kuldeep Yadav(Action Images via Reuters)

In 2017, soon after India’s ICC Champions Trophy final loss, skipper Virat Kohli had said he was drafting in Kuldeep Yadav because a wrist-spinner’s ability to attack can get wickets in limited-overs cricket. The defeat to Pakistan had been compounded by a loss of faith in finger-spinners R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, after their combined 0/137 in 18 overs at The Oval.

However, two years on and with the World Cup looming, chinaman bowler Kuldeep is struggling to take wickets, his forte and raison d’etre. Though the India team management didn’t give IPL weightage, the 24-year-old won’t be boosted by the vote of no-confidence by Dinesh Karthik, his Kolkata Knight Riders skipper.

ALSO READ: ICC World Cup 2019 - Full Coverage

Karthik didn’t pick him in the last match against Sunrisers Hyderabad, saying he was kept out due to poor form. “Kuldeep has not been bowling as well as he would have liked, and as we would have liked. He didn’t stand up for us in the previous game (4-0-59-1 in the loss to RCB).”

Numbers prove Karthik’s point. In the previous two IPL seasons, Kuldeep was KKR’s top spinner with Sunil Narine, picking 12 wickets (12 games) in 2017 and 17 wickets (16 games) last year. While he conceded runs, the average (runs/wicket) was creditable.

ALSO READ: KKR ask captain Karthik, Uthappa and 3 others to go on a break

IPL STRUGGLES

This season, while all KKR spinners are struggling, Kuldeep’s four scalps in nine games (in 33 overs) looks worse due to the average (71.5). Since his limited-overs debut post 2017 Champions Trophy, Kuldeep has formed a potent force with leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal, vindicating India’s faith in wrist-spin.

However, his form has been on the wane for a while.

Last year in the ODI series in England, India waxed and waned with Kuldeep. And Joe Root’s mastery unlocked the youngster’s mystery a bit. His sensational 6/25 led to victory in the first game but a 3/68 at Lord’s couldn’t prevent defeat. In the decider at Leeds, Root hit an unbeaten 100, wearing down Kuldeep by linking technique to risk-free batting. Kuldeep’s 0/55 stood out in the eight-wicket loss.

In last month’s Australia series at home, he again began well, getting Usman Khawaja and Peter Handscomb in the first game to help India win. But as the five-game series progressed, both read him better, came down the track and used the sweep well. He seemed surprised, and with his role as wicket-taker diminished, he became a bit of a liability.

Soon after the series, Kuldeep said he was also learning to bowl a restrictive line. The effort seems to have started too close to the World Cup, but former India leg-spinner Narendra Hirwani, who has coached him at the National Cricket Academy, isn’t too worried.

“The batsmen have read him well, but don’t think there is much to worry. He is a bit jaded after so many games on the trot. Just needs a break, this can happen to anyone; he’ll come back strong. He is a champion bowler. Learning to restrict is the need of the hour but come the World Cup, he should be back to his old ways.”

Dinesh Karthik too says, “We had to give him a break and get him back fresh.”

CONFIDENCE COUNTS

Kuldeep is known as a confidence player, on a high when taking wickets but looking jaded when hit. Chahal can keep his wits about and return aggressively with a variation.

In South Africa early last year, he was unplayable in the first three ODIs. But when attacked by Heinrich Klaasen in the fourth game, he didn’t look as effective.

Kuldeep’s childhood coach Kapil Pandey blames the batting-friendly pitches and fatigue. “Some wickets he is playing on, especially in IPL, are very batting-friendly where even the best can suffer. So flight, his strong point, hasn’t been effective and he is also trying to bowl a few flat deliveries. But the World Cup will be different, in format and wickets. Also, he has been playing non-stop. Once he gets a break, he’ll return to the way he had been bowling and taking wickets.”

First Published: Apr 24, 2019 11:08 IST