Updated: Jul 26, 2021
Story of a young chinaman bowler who rose to the greater heights and then vanished.
A 22-year-old unorthodox left-arm spinner from Kanpur made his debut for the Indian Test team in the 2017 Dharamsala Test against Australia. The home series was tied going into the 4th and final Test where India lost the toss and were asked to field. Australia had raced up to a score of 144-1, scoring at a run rate of above 4 on the first day, with their stalwarts David Warner and Steve Smith batting well as they had built up a 134-run partnership.
The debutant Kuldeep Yadav, in his 4th over of the spell, got the ball to spin away from a full length to have David Warner caught at slip by India’s stand in captain Ajinkya Rahane for 56. Kuldeep went on to take 4 wickets while conceding 68 runs in that innings dismissing Peter Handscomb, Glen Maxwell, Pat Cummins along with Warner as Australia managed just 300 runs in the first innings from a solid position of 144-1 at one stage. India won that Test and the series 2-1 against Australia due to a brilliant team effort.
Kuldeep Yadav was the new ace in India’s pocket; he bowled with strong revs behind the ball, immaculate top-spin and googly variations along with a natural ability to dip or drift, painting a picture of immense promise to serve the Indian team well and long. But in recent years, the promise seems to be dimmed by an underwhelming result from the spinner. Kuldeep has only played 2 Test matches and 4 ODIs this year, out of which the last two were against Sri Lanka recently. So, what happened?
The Rise of Kuldeep Yadav
After his first few stellar performances, he was enlisted into the ODI set up as India pushed towards having more attacking wrist spin bowling options within their ranks to set up their team for the 2019 World Cup.
Kuldeep’s numbers in the two years preceding the World Cup were staggering. He averaged 24.8 in 2017 and improved to 17.8 the next year with an economy 4.64. He also managed to take the most number of international wickets for any bowler since his debut.
Kuldeep proved to be a natural wicket taker who didn’t go for many runs and India with the spin twins – Kuldeep and Yuzvendra Chahal, affectionately known as ‘Kul-Cha’ ripped through the middle order of sides playing against them helping India to take the number 1 position in the ICC’s ODI team rankings.
His numbers were even better in T20Is which traditionally is supposed to be a more challenging format for spinners. He averaged an astonishing 9.8 in 2018 and gave runs at a rate of 5.9 per over with a commendable 52.7 dot ball percentage.
In January of 2019, India played the historic Border-Gavaskar Trophy. Kuldeep, on the basis of his many successes in the shorter format, was selected to play the last game of the series, starting to make himself a regular feature in the Test side. After the first innings, Kuldeep led the team off the ground raising the red ball to celebrate his second 5-wicket haul in Test cricket and enforce a follow on against Australia at home, which happened for the first time since 1988.
India were on a rise to dominate world cricket, all was well and seemed like it could only get better. But Kuldeep didn’t get the opportunity to play a Test match again until February of 2021, 14 Test matches and 2 years later.
Read More: The rise and rise of Devdutt Padikkal
What went wrong?
1. IPL 2019
Kuldeep Yadav had a disastrous run in the IPL 2019. After his much-acclaimed international success, batsmen began to prepare specifically against his bowling. He played 9 matches and took only 4 wickets at an average of 71.5 and economy of 8.66. To add to the horrors, Moeen Ali completely slaughtered him in a match against RCB, hitting 27 runs in an over and him finishing at 1-59 for his 4 overs.
Although he was always predominantly average in the IPL, his removal from the domestic franchise team further dented his confidence, a worrying sign for all associated.
2. 2019 World Cup
India, going into World Cup, were the set favorites along with England. However, after the unfortunate elimination from the semi-finals against New Zealand, India had plenty of constructive issues which needed to be addressed. Kuldeep Yadav’s figures didn’t do him any favours. He played in 7 matches in the World Cup, taking 6 wickets at an average of 56.16, which was almost double his career average, reflecting the predicament he had to go through.
There was a clear drop in his performances since the Sydney Test in January 2019. Kuldeep was also completely dropped from the T20 set up, playing only 2 games in 2019, one in 2020 and none since.
3. Team Balance
Another crucial determinant behind his omission was team balance. India was looking to build a new middle order post the retirement of MS Dhoni and wanted all-rounders to compensate for the inexperience. Other spinners batted, even though they were less attacking, it made for better team balance. Also, not to forget the absence of Dhoni’s brilliance behind the stumps, whether it was with his glove work or the guidance imparted to the young spinner. It definitely impacted Kuldeep's overall performance. He must be missing that guiding light or experience of MS Dhohi that fetch him success to some extent. Kuldeep’s form coupled with team situation and the massive Indian talent pool ensured him sitting on the sidelines of most series.
Questions to be raised
Although Kuldeep is suffering from a clear dip in form currently, there has been no doubt that his talent and ability are amongst the world’s best. Questions are to be raised on how the 22-year-old, coming into the India set up has been moulded. Was his removal from T20Is justified after a poor IPL, which was never his strong suit as compared to international cricket where he excelled?
His current Test average is 23.84 with 2 fifers in the 7 Tests he has played. But it took the selectors 14 Tests after his five-wicket haul at Sydney 2019 to be considered for a spot against England at home in 2021. Kuldeep Yadav, much like Rishabh Pant, is a game-changer, the rarest breed who on being nurtured in the right space, opportunity and confidence, cannot be overlooked.
All’s not lost
Kuldeep Yadav has been seen trying to bring improvements in his bowling with speed variations. Although the move has been criticised by some experts; what is important to remember is that he is still a young bowler for someone of his experience. He has been travelling with the team and opportunities along with improvement is the way forward; Test veteran Ishant Sharma being a famous example for the same.
Kuldeep is currently in the white-ball squad for the Sri Lanka tour where he played the first two ODI games. He took 2 wickets in the first ODI with an economy of 5.3 and finished his second game at none for 55 in his 10 overs. His performance, although not match-winner worthy, has been solid and the team management would do well to repose confidence in his abilities through the tour to give him much needed game time. Read More: SL tour opportunity for T20 WC aspirants to make mark