Kuldeep Yadav plays key role in Indian fightback with ball and bat


“You should go for the big break. In that case, alongside over-the-wicket angle, you can also use round-the-wicket angle,” Kapil Pandey, Kuldeep Yadav’s coach, once told this writer with conviction. His pupil has definitely followed the coach’s instructions to the Tee. 

Yes, Kuldeep has added a variation or two to his quiver, including the slider. In limited-overs cricket, he is generally bowling quicker through the air. But he never seems to waver from his key strength. And that is to give the ball a fair rip. We saw ample evidence of this aspect of Kuldeep’s game on Day 3 of the third Test versus England. 

Kuldeep was introduced into the attack only in the 25th over and it didn’t take him long to make an impression by castling Zak Crawley with a peach. Although the ball was slightly shorter in length, it turned appreciably to clean up Crawley.

Now do a quick search about Kuldeep’s best deliveries on YouTube and you will notice that most of the batters have a quizzical look on their faces after being befuddled by the turn. When he hangs up his boots, Kuldeep can instruct someone to frame all those peaches and keep them in one of his rooms as an exhibition for interested viewers. In a hypothetical sense, Shane Warne, one of his admirers, could be smiling somewhere up there while scrolling through photos of batters being bamboozled by turn.

Babar Azam’s dismissals in the World Cup and Asia Cup would certainly be a part of the collection. Crawley’s wicket would also be one of them. Kuldeep’s dream spell didn’t end there as he ripped through the heart of the England lower and middle-order.

Yes, he did vary his pace and variations, but his success was based on imparting more than enough revs on the ball. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that he has extracted the most amount of turn in the Test so far. Kuldeep also has another weapon up his sleeve — bowling from over the wicket to right-handers. That over-the-wicket angle itself would force a right-handed batter to open himself up a bit. 

Kuldeep’s inclusion has also ensured that England have to mull upon finding a way against a wrist spinner. England have executed their plans reasonably well while facing the finger spinners, who turn it one way. But a wrist spinner offers more variety. In that context, it was a bit baffling to observe that Rohit Sharma didn’t utilise Kuldeep’s services more often in the first innings. 

That was about Kuldeep, the bowler. But on the crucial day, he showcased a hidden skill, which isn’t talked about much: His batting. Just rewind back to the second Test in Visakhapatnam. In the morning session of Day 2, Kuldeep was getting beaten on the outside edge enough times while facing James Anderson. 

With loads of experience behind him, Anderson worked out that Kuldeep’s back foot was moving a little more towards leg-stump and not across towards the off-stump. And most likely he would continue to go past the edge of the bat. 

So, in the very next Test, Anderson shifted to a round-the-wicket angle and forced Kuldeep to nibble at one in the corridor of off-stump. This was Part 1 of the cat and mouse game between Kuldeep and Anderson in the ongoing series. 

In the second innings of the Rajkot Test, Anderson was back to testing Kuldeep’s defence from round the wicket. This time, Kuldeep’s back foot seemed to be loading up better and his front foot was moving towards the pitch of the ball. He survived that spell from Anderson and compiled a handy innings.

In the ongoing Ranchi Test, Anderson once more tried the round-the-wicket angle, but Kuldeep stonewalled the Lancastrian for a few overs. Yes, finally a persistent Anderson had Kuldeep inside-edging one onto the stumps and dismissed him for the fourth time in three Tests. Just that it gives an inkling of Kuldeep’s temperament as he chiseled out a method versus a bowler who has 698 Test wickets to his name. 

It isn’t just against Anderson that Kuldeep put on a gritty show. Shoaib Bashir, the off-spinner, extracted consistent over-spin on a track that is keeping low. Kuldeep was equal to the task as he was sure-footed in his forward defence against both Bashir and his spin-partner Tom Hartley.

At the age of 29, Kuldeep has played a mere 11 Tests. It is true that with Ravindra Jadeja and Ravi Ashwin in the set-up, it is difficult for Kuldeep to bang open the door and establish himself in the Test side. But Jadeja and Ashwin aren’t getting any younger, and Kuldeep could very well be spearheading the spin attack in the near future. On occasions, irritating the opponent with his stubborn batting as well.

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