Kuldeep Yadav’s African sojourn has more or less cemented his spot in the Indian ODI side and looking back at it, the ‘Chinaman’ will always consider it to be a special one. Not because it was his first away tour but for his exceptional spell of bowling which saw him return home with flying colours from the rainbow nation. His tally of 16 wickets is the most ever by a spinner in any series in South Africa, surpassing the legendary – Muttiah Muralitharan who took 14 scalps in 1998. Ever since he graduated from the junior cricket to the international stage, 23-year-old Kuldeep has been living up to his reputation and delivering the goods consistently. After making a memorable Test debut against Australia last year, the wristspinner has taken the sport by storm and carried on his good run of form into the limited overs.
Speaking from his home in Kanpur, Yadav gave an insight into his mindset during the South Africa tour, analysing his own bowling and also revealing how he was nervous before his first away tour but is now ready to conquer the world.
In your words, how would you assess your South Africa tour?
I am very happy how it panned out. First away tour was really nice for me. I was nervous before going there but was equally excited. I always thought to myself that this was an opportunity to learn something new. My plan was to get acclimatised to conditions as soon as possible. Knowing that turn will be less but bounce will be more, I prepared myself accordingly. I was mentally well-prepared and composed myself by believing in my strengths. My strength is not bowling quick- something that Imran Tahir does. But my focus was giving the ball more flight, bowl slower through the air, and at the same time focus on the amount of drift. I wanted to deceive the batsmen by holding it in the air.
How does one get the confidence of flighting the ball despite the ominous threat of getting wallopped across the park?
If you don’t have confidence in your abilities then you can never deliver on the international stage. I have never feared to flight the ball, never thought about giving away runs. Since childhood, I have been used to getting hit but coming back to take wickets. Now when a batsman hits me for a six it gives me the confidence of getting him out. So I keep thinking positive and try to get the wicket for the team. Inviting the batsman for the big shot is something that I always try to do. There is no pulling back the length, changing the line or bowling a flat trajectory. It is upto the batsmen to take up the challenge and try to hit me.
Do senior players in the Indian team instil plenty of confidence?
Yes, definitely. When legends like MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli are in your team then the job becomes, even more, easier. Mahi Bhai keeps sharing his wealth of experience with me, so it really feels good to be around him. It helps us to have a strong mindset. At the same time, Virat bhai also encourages to keep attacking the batsmen. He believes in us, always motivates us and there can be nothing bigger for a youngster than this.
So does bowling to them in the nets help?
Of course. When you bowl to such good batsmen in the nets and do well it makes you better prepared for international matches and almost unplayable for the opposition.
Do the Indian batsmen find it difficult to pick you? Who is the best at it?
(Laughs) Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t. But most of them are class players. Virat Kohli picks me the best. (laughs again)
After a wonderful away tour (ODI’s) are you ready for overseas Test cricket?
Obviously, I am ready for the foreign tours. I love pitches outside India more as they offer true bounce, wickets here are slow. I am ready to play all the three formats, that is the ultimate goal.
If R Ashwin is played as an allrounder, then are you ready to lead the spin attack?
Of course, I am. I think even four years ago I was ready. I am playing for my country right now, I am confident and so I think I can deliver.
How would you analyse your own bowling?
I try to keep things simple. I focus on my grip and keep it firm but not too tight, else I won’t be able to release it properly. Upon that there is alignment- body coordination is also vital. The better you co-ordination the more purchase and drift you can get. If you get the drift right then it becomes difficult for the batsman to play. But what is also important is to control the drift. I do not focus too much on pace. It generally varies from 75 to 85 kmph and I keep it at that. What I also like to do is set my field and plan accordingly.
How would you sum up your journey from junior cricket to IPL to the international stage?
It has been a wonderful journey where my focus has been to keep bowling as much as I can. The biggest plus point was that the more I bowled the more mature I became. When I played IPL, I learnt a lot from the likes of Brad Hogg. Gautam Gambhir also backed me tot he hilt and that really helped me grow. Now in the international circuit- nothing much has changed except my pace, which has increased. I hope to keep playing for my country and perform in whichever format I get a chance in.