Speaking ahead of his first ODI series as a full-time captain, Rohit Sharma had made his intentions clear. He wanted to bring back wrist-spinners Yuzvendra Chahal and Kudleep Yadav back in the scheme of things. “Especially Kuldeep,” he would say last February. With a T20 World Cup to follow in Australia, a place where wrist-spinners are the favoured ilk, one expected both of them to play a bigger role.
Instead, only Chahal made it to the tournament, and ended up just warming the bench even as other teams preferred taking the field with wrist-spinners.
Now as the focus shifts to the 50-over World Cup in October-November on home soil, the spotlight is once again on the two wrist-spinners. Unlike the lead up to the 2019 World Cup, where the two played simultaneously, due to team balance — especially the need for batting depth – means only one of them can make it to the XI. It has come down to that point where the Indian team management has to take definite decisions like they have done in the case of KL Rahul that he would bat at No 5.
That is clarity that hasn’t been around for a while now and with every opportunity – that is far and sparse in each format – Kuldeep is making a definite case for his inclusion in the ODI XI ahead of Chahal.
Left-arm wrist-spinners commonly referred as Chinaman have always been a rare breed in world cricket. Among other teams, only South Africa have one in Tabraiz Shamsi.
And after seeming to have fallen off the pecking order, Kuldeep finally seems to be in the place where he can make a lot of difference and make the team. After sorting out the arm rotation speed which was an issue in the past, Kuldeep has also found good balance in his body, whereby his run-up, delivery stride, point of release and follow-through are all perfectly aligned to complete the action in a smooth manner.
“Kuldeep had a much more angular run-up earlier. Now he is running in a lot straighter,” former India spinner Laxman Sivaramakrishnan told The Indian Express.
According to the Sivaramakrishnan, Kuldeep is now able to be more accurate with his landing because of the body balance, of which he has total control now. “The run up is only to gain momentum. The balance in the delivery stride is the most important. Once your body is balanced, and you are able to control your body, you will be able to control where you want to bowl and how much spin you want to impart,” he added.
Sivaramakrishnan, who has been calling for the team to have a spin-bowling coach in place also notes one other aspect that is now helping Kuldeep immensely.
“Not many have realised, his wrist position has also changed from what I see. It is absolutely perfect now. Earlier, when he bowled to a right-hander, the back of the palm was facing mid-wicket. Now it is facing upwards, which is the perfect position to spin the ball with your ring finger. If you see Chahal bowling to a right-hander, the back of the palm will be facing off-side — towards cover or extra-cover — and that is why he doesn’t turn the ball so much. Kuldeep is able to turn a lot more because his wrist position is better than what it was. He has changed his run-up, has more balance in delivery stride and once he is able to control his body, and a better wrist position, allows him to bowl with far more accuracy and turn the ball both ways,” said Sivaramakrishnan, who was earlier approached by Cricket South Africa to be a spin-bowling consultant.
Since the last World Cup in 2019, things have hardly gone right for Kuldeep. Low on confidence, he was even benched by Kolkata Knight Riders in the IPL. The 28-year-old went back to his childhood coach and corrected a few things.
Sivaramakrishnan believes increasing his arm speed will not make Kuldeep effective. “If you bowl slower through the air, you give a lot more time for the ball to spin. If you are sending it flatter and fast, you won’t get any spin. If you bowl slow, then the ball will dip on the batsman. The arm speed has to be the same for deception. If the googly is fast, then the batsmen will be able to pick it with time. Same with release as well. When Adil Rashid releases on stump-to-stump line, you know it is a leg-spin. And the moment he releases from the line outside off, it will be a googly. If the arm speed changes, even the release point will change and you won’t have deception,” he observed.
After taking a five-for in the first Test against Bangladesh, Kuldeep was dropped for the second. And in the second ODI at Kolkata against Sri Lanka, Kuldeep played only because Chahal had a niggle. Heading to Thiruvananthapuram, it is pertinent that India continue with Kuldeep as it will only help him grow in confidence.
Teams which go into ICC tournaments usually are filled with match-winners, especially ones who have an X-factor. By the looks of it, India are short on that aspect, more so when one considers the uncertainty around Rishabh Pant in the format and the fitness concerns of Jasprit Bumrah. Like the two, Kuldeep is unique.
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