“Oh god! The questions!” Brad Hogg’s bemused reaction to Kuldeep Yadav’s inquisitive nature says much about the young bowler, and about the relationship the two share. If there was any residual doubt, Hogg stubs it out with this: “Kuldeep would be perfect role model for a son I would want. He is a fantastic human being. Genuine, authentic, and someone who keeps it real.”
They say art is truly international and its boundarylessness is captured by the relationship that the veteran Australian chinaman spinner shares with the young Indian. Born in Kolkata at IPL, nurtured through intimate chats across Indian cities, and sustained through Whatsapp, it’s grown in leaps and bounds — the biggest beneficiary is Kuldeep of course, but it has provided satisfaction and joy to Hogg that comes only with sharing.
Just how far Kuldeep has come in his career, and the beautiful potential that lies ahead, is best captured in the change in the Whatsapp chats between the two. “I have to say it has now reached a stage where I find myself just congratulating him on the recent achievements. Four years back, it used to be a lot more technical or strategical and tips if I had any, but now, it has reached a nice little congratulatory notes.”
The biggest change that has Hogg chuckling is how Kuldeep addresses him now: From “Sir” to “Hoggy”. “It took me four years to convince him! I have huge respect for him as he respects his peers but he has also got to understand that he has worked extremely hard and has earned his stripes now. Mind you, he is pretty cheeky too, not shy in throwing the birthday cake at your face!”
It didn’t take Hogg long to suss out the youngster. “When I met him four years ago, I felt he was a well-rounded young man. He worked bloody hard, listened a lot, asked questions; immediately you knew that here is a guy who is serious about his career.”
One of the early discussions between the two wasn’t about cricket but fitness. “I remember telling him that cricket isn’t just about bowling; fitness can allow him to fully unearth his potential in every aspect.” Hogg is a living example of it, having played into his 40s. Kuldeep took the suggestion on board and worked out real hard in the first two years with Kolkata Knight Riders.
It isn’t just with his fitness that he has captured the Indian imagination in the last year and half; the magic deliveries like the googly that sort of put a pause in the Test career of Glen Maxwell in Dharamsala last year. Or how he flicked out a flipper to take out David Warner in the same game.
In some ways, those twin dismissals, as magical as they were, had almost handicapped him in public perception. That by the very rarity of his art, he was someone who would conjure balls like that – and that was that. As if there wasn’t any cricketing brain ticking. As if it was all just natural unfolding of his latent talent, an uncommon art, almost exotic in its origin, and which is fooling the batsmen. Not entirely untrue, of course, but Kuldeep has already proved he is much more than all that.
Hogg is surprised with that perception. “No, No, He has always had that thinking side; he is someone who thinks a lot about craft — and we have spent hours talking about how to set up a batsman. He has always had that.” In other words, he is not going to be your fly-by-night operator.
Further proof of it came in the ODI series in South Africa. In the way, he shrugged off a six by Chris Morris to “wind carrying the ball” and how it was in his plan. And soon came the delivery, that had Morris misreading and miscuing the big hit. More proof lies in the SonyLiv app on your phone, the screen pixels will stream out more such clever maneuvers.
“He has the talent, he has the knack technically, tactically and mentally. He is very switched on. He knows where he wants to go. He knows his strengths, he knows his weaknesses, and he knows what areas he wants to work on.”
For all that he has picked up the chats, it’s what Kuldeep refused that made Hogg realise that here is a wise head on the shoulders.
If there is one thing that Hogg believes that Kuldeep can change that will make his tweakers even more effective lies in the delivery stride. He believes Kuldeep bends his knees a bit too much at release. “I would like him to straighten up in the delivery stride.” And so the two had a chat. Soon, after a few sessions at the nets, Hogg remembers Kuldeep coming back and saying, “Sir, I am not going to do it. It’s not working for me.”
Hogg turns all avuncular in his description of how it went. “You see there are many kids, who get a lot of advice from many people, and get very eager to implement it to show they can. But you have to be very careful what works for you, and what doesn’t. I still think Kuldeep would be a better bowler if he manages to do that adjustment, but what works in theory isn’t going to turn out in practical terms.
“He is a self-aware individual, and he had no problems in telling me it wasn’t working for him. That’s probably the thing I have been impressed with him over the last year and half. He has been able to improve, and yet not taking on things that would hold him back.There is a lot of knowledge out there, there are lots of people who have played the game, but we have to remember, what works for one player might not work for another player.”
Hogg also believes though the wrist position at release of the two of them are similar, Kuldeep’s supple wrists allows him to get more revolutions on the legbreak, and that the youngster is able to rip it a lot more than he ever did. And so, Hogg decided to get Kuldeep on board about the efficacy of using the stock ball a lot.
“Young spinners don’t often realise the importance of stock ball. The variations work because they are variations, you know. Kuldeep gets that. You won’t see him trying too many different things in a spell, at least in the longer formats.”
Another aspect that the two talked about was the little changes in pace. “Drastic reductions in pace doesn’t work in longer formats. It’s those little variations that does the trick: it’s what draws the batsmen forward into a loose drive when he shouldn’t and induce mistakes.” In the last 18 months, Hogg believes Kuldeep has started to nail it down in his game. “The way he can deliver the leggie, the wrong’un and the backspinner – he has got a lot of variations already. It’s in these little things, variations, that he is going to get more effective. I have seen him of late grow leaps and bounds. He keeps it simple. This is his true character. He doesn’t get too far ahead of himself. He knows what works for him.Your intuition comes into play with more experience at the higher level. He is developing a lot quicker than lot of others. And that goes back to his character: willing listener, and willing to think and work harder.”
And when you have a keen mentor like Hogg, it can only get better. Hogg still keeps a close eye on him, as much as he can. “If the coverage is coming to Australia, I watch it. If I see something, I would send him a message.”
Last year, he had said that only after he took those four wickets against Australia on his debut, did he mentally relax. Of late,though, it’s clear that Kuldeep believes he belongs at this level. Hogg believes it’s down to the dressing room culture out there. “It’s all about the Indian team. I think Virat Kohli and Ravi Shastri have done a fantastic job in embracing characters. Young players are being treated as equal. You have to obviously respect the people who take decisions, but in general what I hear is there is no segregation, no dominating hierarchy. I think they are a very close unit. You can tell it from the how happy the young players like Kuldeep are in the set-up.”
With India set to tour England next, and Australia later in the year, Hogg thinks Kuldeep is ready. Even to be the lone specialist spinner in the Tests if such a need arises. “In Australia, you need someone with a lot of over spin, to go with the ability to rip it side-ways too, and that’s the reason behind Nathan Lyon’s success here. Kuldeep can do it.” What about England, India’s next assignment? “Oh, he is ready. A quality wrist spinner always does well against England. I know it’s hard on Ashwin and Jadeja, and if India can play Ashwin as the allrounder and squeeze in Kuldeep, it would be great. And if they need just one spinner, I think he is ready for it. He is not a T20 and ODI specialist, he is the real deal. Throw him in the Tests, I say!”