Kuldeep Yadav can make his home debut for India in the third ODI against New Zealand. (PTI Photo)
THIS IS one IPL game that’s etched in Kapil Pandey’s memory. From Suresh Raina’s swashbuckling half-century to Dwayne Bravo’s four-wicket burst, he can recount every moment and every single frame from that high-octane Gujarat Lions vs Kolkata Knight Riders duel in 2016 with utmost glee. However, by Kapil’s own admission, the highlight of that evening was the booming ‘Kuldeep…Kuldeep’ chants that got the boisterous Green Park crowd on its feet. One could not find fault with them. After all, it was Kanpur’s first IPL fixture, and it was only fitting that their favourite cricketer, the young and upcoming chinaman bowler Kuldeep Yadav, get a chance to showcase his wares in front of his home crowd.
Kapil, Kuldeep’s childhood coach, is pragmatic. “Public toh chahti thi ki Kuldeep woh match khele. Woh Kanpur ka pehla IPL match tha… lekin IPL aur India team ka selection thodi public sentiment mein kiya jata hain,” he offers. He insists that the IPL experience was the first time that he got wind of his young ward’s growing popularity. This, he says, made watching that match from the stands a memorable experience.
“Main bata nahi sakta kitna garv mehsoos kar raha tha us din… woh Gujarat ka home match tha, lekin sabhi KKR ke bande ko support kar rahe the,” he adds. It was under the watchful eyes of Kapil that Kuldeep mastered one of cricket’s subtle arts, and blossomed into a fine left-arm chinaman bowler. Back in 2016, he was still raw, with relatively little first-class experience. Being counted among that rare breed of wrist-spinners did help his popularity. Back home in Kanpur, a town devoid of home-grown cricketing superstars, they celebrated even his most trivial achievements with gusto.
Life has changed dramatically for Kuldeep since that IPL game more than 17 months ago. From being on the fringes, he has made rapid strides in all three formats of the game at the international level, outwitting opposition batsmen with his guile, flight and irresistible drift. Added to that, an ODI hat-trick against Australia has only enhanced his reputation as the new-age wrist spinner. Consequently, batsmen have found it difficult to score runs off him, as they struggle to pick his potent mix of chinaman deliveries and flippers. In recent times, he and leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal have forged a combination for Virat Kohli in the shorter formats. In his 12 ODIs, Kuldeep has picked 19 wickets at an average of 26.5, a firm indication of his growing stature and confidence with which he has donned the India jersey.
Perhaps, Tom Latham, New Zealand’s left-handed wicketkeeper-batsman, is the only player who has managed to dominate the 22-year-old in recent times. In the first ODI of the ongoing series in Mumbai, Latham employed the sweep shot to good effect, throwing the chinaman off his lines. Kuldeep was dropped from the subsequent game, replaced with Axar Patel. That change proved to be a masterstroke, as Axar dismissed Latham by employing a more flattish line.
What’s worrying for Kohli is the rather inept manner in which Kuldeep surrendered to Latham. “Credit to the New Zealand batsmen, especially Latham, for having played the spinners so efficiently,” was how he put it after India’s loss in Mumbai. Despite achieving considerable success in recent times, Kuldeep’s inability to alter his gameplan and getting bogged down by the belligerence of big hitters is something he needs to look at. In such a scenario, the industrious Chahal, along with the prosaic Axar, could get the nod ahead of the Kanpur lad in games to come.
Kapil explains the reasons for Kuldeep’s no-show at the Wankhede. “I think he got flustered when Latham began playing the sweep shot. Even the dew in the evening did not help, as he found it difficult to grip the ball. When he had called me a couple of days ago, I told him that he was bowling far too much on the middle-leg stump line to Latham. I think he should stick to a predominantly outside the off-stump line to Latham and other left-handers, while at the same time not compromise on his flight, as I believe that’s his strength,” he explains.
Kapil has also asked him to watch videos of the way he had bowled to David Warner in the Dharamsala Test and in subsequent ODIs and T20s against Australia. “Usne Warner ko off-stump pe khilaya aur Test match mein aur ODIs mein uska wicket nikala,” Kapil adds.
In a couple of days, the action will shift to Kanpur, Kuldeep’s doting hometown. And ahead of the series decider, there’s only one question in the mind of the average Kanpuriya? Will Kuldeep feature in the playing XI? Green Park was crestfallen to see Kuldeep carrying drinks during the IPL. As Kanpur decks up to host its first ODI in two years, they will be hoping that their favourite cricketer gets the chance to take his much-awaited international bow at Green Park. But then, as Kapil Pandey remarked: “Team selections are not done on public sentiment.”