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IPL 2024: Kuldeep Yadav's resurgence continues to inspire

IPL 2024: What's working for Kuldeep Yadav on his return? How he became a force to reckon with in shorter format? Kuldeep has 14 wickets from 9 games this season.


IPL 2024, DC vs SRH_ Kuldeep Yadav took 4-55 against SRH in a run friend _Walking Wicket (Images_ ©BCCI_IPLT20)
IPL 2024: Kuldeep Yadav took 4-55 against SRH (Images: ©BCCI/IPLT20)

India's crafty chinaman spinner Kuldeep Yadav's cricketing journey epitomizes the resilience and determination required to navigate the highs and lows of professional sports. At nearly 30 years of age, Kuldeep has experienced a roller-coaster ride, facing challenges that tested not just his skills but also his mental fortitude. From being hailed as India's lead spinner in white-ball cricket to finding himself dropped from his IPL team and India's squad in 2021, Kuldeep's resurgence is a story of adaptation and unwavering determination.


Beginnings

Kuldeep's entry into international cricket, from his ODI debut to the 2019 ODI World Cup, was akin to a fairy tale. During this period, he showcased remarkable prowess, claiming 99 wickets in 56 matches for India in the 50-over format, boasting an impressive average of 24.79. This tally included four four-wicket hauls and a notable five-wicket haul. His strike rate of 29.8 exemplifies his impact, averaging nearly two wickets per game. His pair with his compatriot Yuzvendra Chahal was the most talked-about bowling pair back then. The pair was doing wonders not just in India but everywhere India toured.


The U-turn: Drop in performance and injury woes 

However, his career took a U-turn as life brought an interesting twist to his cricketing journey. His 2019 ODI World Cup performance was quite ordinary, where he featured in seven matches but managed to secure only six wickets, marking a downturn in his trajectory and resulting in his subsequent exclusion from India's squad. 


The 2020 IPL season was the most disastrous edition for the left-arm chinaman bowler. He played only five matches out of 14, and his stats justify why he was left out of the XI by Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR). In those five matches, he had picked up only one wicket at an average of 92.00. He then didn't feature in the 2021 IPL due to injury.


Reflecting on his earlier years, Kuldeep acknowledges his ego and rigidity in his approach to the game. "I was very egoistic. I had a lot of belief in my skill, so I thought what others were saying was not important," he confessed in a podcast with his Test bowling partner Ravichandran Ashwin. However, pivotal advice from mentors like Ashwin, Indian Premier League (IPL) Kolkata Knight Riders' (KKR) coach Carl Crowe, and physio Ashish Kaushik opened his eyes to the need for change.


A few years later, a loss of form and a career-threatening knee surgery put his career at a crossroads. In the span of two years, he went from being hailed as “India’s lead spinner in overseas Tests” by then-head coach Ravi Shastri to becoming the fifth-choice tweaker after Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Axar Patel, and Washington Sundar. That was the time Kuldeep needed a comforting arm around his shoulder as he was dropped from the Indian team across formats and wasn't the first or second choice spinner for his IPL franchise in the blink of an eye. He suddenly fell from the sky to the bottom.



IPL 2023, RCB vs DC, Top Performances_ Kuldeep Yadav's 4-1-23-2 goes in vain as RCB beat DC _ Walking wicket (Images_ ©IPL_Twitter)
Kuldeep took 10 wickets from 14 games in IPL 2023 (Images: ©IPL/Twitter)
Wicketkeepers to the rescue 

But the left-arm spinner is lucky to have found the required support. Kuldeep Yadav's journey to redemption began with a willingness to listen and adapt. "Before my injury, I had been bowling with the same action for 15 years. There were lots of questions in my mind," he admitted in front of Ashwin. This introspection marked a turning point in his career, leading him to embrace guidance and make necessary adjustments.


In his first year under Rishabh Pant’s captaincy at Delhi Capitals, he scalped 21 wickets in 14 games. Last year, when Rishabh missed the tournament after a road mishap, Kuldeep had an average season, taking 10 scalps in 14 games. This year with Rishabh back and chirping “Ye wala achha tha Kullu (This one was nice, Kuldeep)”, his performance has improved. He has picked up 12 wickets in eight matches so far.


Not only this, he received great help from India's ODI wicketkeeper KL Rahul in 2023. This wicketkeeper and spinner duo created magic in the ODI World Cup 2023. Many times, Kuldeep has given credit to KL Rahul for picking up a wicket, be it in the ODI Asia Cup 2023 held in Sri Lanka and Pakistan or the World Cup. Being a captain of a franchise in IPL and a stand-in captain of the Indian cricket team many times, he knows how to motivate the bowlers. Standing just behind the wickets, he helps the spinner a lot.


From the start of 2022, Kuldeep has picked up 43 wickets in 24 matches, and his bowling average has dropped to 18.93 (in this period). His economy rate, which was 5.76 between the end of the 2019 World Cup and the end of 2021, dropped to 4.70. He has picked up three-wicket hauls against Australia and New Zealand and four-fers against South Africa and Sri Lanka. And then, of course, there were 5 for 25 against Pakistan in the Asia Cup Super Four game.



Could some extra pace help?

There was once a perception that Kuldeep Yadav needed to work on the speed of his bowling; that the fizz was lacking and he was too slow to beat batters. His relationship with Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) soured drastically as everyone said he needed to increase his pace. It was like a math teacher narrating a formula but not explaining how to solve a problem.


“Sab kehte rahe speed badhao, but kaise karna hai wo kisi ne nahi bola (Everyone said I need to increase my speed, but no one told me how),” Kuldeep said.


He received suggestions from many, including former India spinner and current Punjab Kings' (PBKS) spin bowling coach Sunil Joshi, who wanted him to work on his angle while Indian captain Rohit Sharma wanted him to bowl a tad quicker, and Ashish Kaushik, a physio at NCA, warned him against putting too much weight on his front leg.


And the required massive transformation came with a slight change in run-up and a minor adjustment in the bowling action. Suddenly, he was bowling quicker, but still getting the turn that troubled batters when he first burst onto the scene. His variations were still as effective, if not more, and now came with more zip off the surface.


“It was frustrating to start with. I was not getting my length right, I was losing the trajectory. I did work a lot and my leg would swell up. With the new run-up, I increased my pace but was bowling flat. After a couple of matches, I realized that batsmen were not getting more time with this new action and run-up. That was the first ray of hope I saw after a long time,” said Kuldeep.


“In 2022 against Punjab Kings, I lost my rhythm and without even realizing I started bowling with the old action. I remember during the strategic timeout, Shane Watson came and told me, ‘Mate, I want to see Kuldeep 2.0. Show us what you have done in the past games,’” he recalled.



The Resurgence: What’s new about Kuldeep Yadav?

Kuldeep’s career has been like his bowling. It has turned, bounced, and drifted, but has found the accuracy and zip in the past couple of years. So what has changed? He had shed his ego and learnt from his mistakes. On the show Breakfast with Champions when host Gaurav Kapoor teased him about his weight, Kuldeep immediately replied: “Dhoke-dhakke sab khaya hun (I had faced betrayal and setbacks).”


The statistics underscore Kuldeep's resurgence in the cricketing arena. In the IPL 2024, he has taken 14 wickets in just nine matches with an impressive economy rate. His dominance extends to international cricket, where he played a pivotal role in India's success in the Asia Cup, amassing 31 wickets in ODIs at a remarkable average.


On the basis of his IPL performances, Kuldeep earned his place back in the Indian team. He then displayed his skills, and made justice to his talent with 25 wickets in 15 matches in ODIs and five wickets in four matches at an economy of 4.69, averaging 12.20. And now he has become the first choice spinner, not just for his IPL team, but for India as well. 


He will now represent India in the upcoming T20 World Cup 2024 to be held in the USA and West Indies, starting from June 03. Indian captain Rohit Sharma and the whole country is banking on him for the great showdown and helping India to win the T20 World Cup after a prolonged gap of 17 years. 


As Kuldeep continues to shine on the field, his journey serves as a testament to resilience, self-discovery, and the power of mentorship. From being dropped and overlooked, he has emerged stronger, ready to take on any challenge that comes his way.


In Kuldeep's words, "Dhoke-dhakke sab khaya hun (I have faced betrayal and setbacks)." Yet, through it all, he has emerged as a force to be reckoned with, embodying the essence of redemption and resurgence in cricket's ever-evolving landscape. Kuldeep Yadav's journey is not just a personal triumph but also an inspiration to aspiring cricketers worldwide, reminding them that setbacks can be stepping stones to greater achievements.


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