Kuldeep Yadav, Shikhar Dhawan, Glenn Maxwell: Sending loud messages in IPL 2021
- They will need a special Indian Premier League season to meet personal targets at a crucial stage of their careers.
Eerily silent stadiums will be a bummer but in most games of the Indian Premier League (IPL), another edition of which begins on April 9, tension would still burn to white heat. “The very first time we won the championship, in 2012, the thought that went through my mind was how difficult it is to win this,” said Venky Mysore, CEO of Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR), on Wednesday.
That IPL 2021 is in the year of a World T20 adds an edge to proceedings. Rebooting careers, rebuilding reputations, losing before winning in such a setting can make for compelling stories, on a par with great comebacks which are always sport’s best tales. So it will be for Kuldeep Yadav, Glenn Maxwell and Shikhar Dhawan. For them, this could be a make-or-break season for international or franchise careers. Or both.
Ever since Moeen Ali took 27 off his final over on April 19, 2019, Yadav’s confidence, control and guile has resembled a multiple fracture that refuses to heal. He dismissed Ali off the last ball but hit on both sides of the wicket, Yadav broke down after the 4,6,4,6,wd,6 mayhem and has since slipped, sliding away - for KKR and India.
Yadav’s analysis of 4-0-59-1 that night is the third worst for spinners in IPL after Mujib Ur Rahman (4-0-66-0 in 2019) and Imran Tahir (4-0-59-0 in 2016). Data from Cricviz puts Yadav’s economy rate at 9.1 and strike rate at 24.6 after that game. The corresponding numbers prior were 7.5 and 17.4. Since that night at Eden Gardens, he is even bowling fewer googlies, down to 25% of all deliveries from 29%.
“A form issue with (Kuldeep) – as he couldn’t stand up for us in the last game and we had to give him a break and get him back fresh,” said then KKR skipper Dinesh Karthik when asked why Yadav was missing in the next game, away to Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH). KKR didn’t find Yadav fresh enough to be featured in any of the remaining five games.
Yadav, 26, played in the first three games of IPL 2020 but completed four overs only in the opener against Mumbai Indians (MI). The solitary wicket of Jaydev Unadkat in three games - his only IPL scalp since dismissing Ali - wasn’t enough for KKR to persist with the bowler who had finished 2018 IPL with 17 wickets in 16 games. Yadav was dropped for the next five games. Brought back against SRH, Yadav went wicketless (3-0-18-0). That he didn’t get to bowl in the next and last game, against Royal Challengers Bangalore, summed up his season.
The games dried up for India too. From being India coach Ravi Shastri’s “frontline overseas spinner” in 2019, he had to wait for over two years to play another Test, the Chennai second game against England in February. He featured in seven of India’s 27 games in all formats in 2020 and went wicketless in the two ODIs against England. Irregular games, he has said, has led to a struggle to get his length right.
At least once, Yadav has turned it around. At Eden in 2018, he went in against Rajasthan Royals with nine wickets from 12 games. Success flowed when Ajinkya Rahane tried to reverse sweep. More adept at that shot than Rahane, Jos Buttler was foxed by a faster one; Stuart Binny fell to a googly and Ben Stokes was caught and bowled. A wicket in every over and figures of 4-0-20-4 fetched Yadav the Man-of-the-Match award. An encore could be his ticket to the World T20. For now, he has India skipper Virat Kohli in his corner. “I see him fitter, I see his bowling improved much more…I see he has added to skill set as well,” Kohli said before the England series.
If Yadav’s slump is a mystery - it has nothing to do with headspace, Kohli has said - an even bigger one is why a clean-hitter like Maxwell hasn’t surpassed the 200-run aggregate mark in four of the last five IPL seasons. When you compare his career graph for Australia (averages 31.78 against 22.13 in IPL) or even in Big Bash League (he has 17 fifties, as opposed to six in IPL), the contrast becomes more glaring. The last time the Australian aggregated over 500 runs was in 2014, when he was going at a strike rate of 187.75 - his best IPL season.
What ails Maxwell? There is a long-standing contention that he often comes in too late to make an impact. Though he has done better against spinners in IPL (55 sixes vs 39 off pacers), Maxwell’s lower strike rate against fast bowlers (147 compared to 163 against IPL spinners) explains why he may have missed the mark more in the death overs.
Maxwell’s role for RCB seems most defined this season. “We’ve just found through the middle overs as an area (to work on), so to have another player of that quality just adds to the likes of AB de Villiers and a two-pronged attack through the middle overs and the back-end. We know on his day he can turn a game on its head,” said RCB director of cricket, Mike Hesson.
This also means Maxwell may have to exercise restraint at the start of his innings, something that doesn’t come naturally to him. At 32, Maxwell may be looking at a couple of years more. But another lean run this IPL could ruin chances of bagging a big deal next year when all teams go into the auction pool.
The dilemma over Dhawan is different. He has been the form player in IPL but the recent white-ball series against England has further complicated the combination scenarios for India. Dhawan made four runs in the only T20I he played but when the ODIs came, he scored 98, 4 and 67. “Once I got the chance I made the most of it. I was playing domestic cricket - Syed Mushtaq Ali and Vijay Hazare - and that was match practice for me. I’m glad I played those tournaments,” he said.
Dhawan finds himself in an odd position where he opens the batting in ODIs but could soon be out of favour in T20Is following Kohli’s decision to open with Rohit Sharma. At 35, Dhawan knows chances of staying in contention till the next 50-over World Cup in 2023 are slim. And KL Rahul shaping up as the backup T20 opener (he had a fantastic IPL for Kings XI Punjab (now Punjab Kings) last season) means Dhawan’s chances in the shortest format take a further beating.
The only way to force a change is to produce another outstanding season at Delhi Capitals. His IPL run has been extraordinarily consistent - aggregating 501, 479, 497 and 521 till the 2019 edition. If there was one persistent issue with Dhawan’s T20 batting, it was his dot-ball percentage that contributed to strike rates never going north of 136 till 2019.
In 2020 though, the left-handed batsman rotated the strike better and his dot-ball percentage improved, from 35% to 27%. That season - 618 runs at a strike rate of 144.73 - remains his best. Dhawan though may need to better it in 2021 if he is to bat in the T20 World Cup in India.