“Kal tak to hamare saath khel raha tha. Aaj dekhiye kahan nikal gaya. Talented to tha. (Till yesterday he was playing with us. Look where he is now. But he was talented.)”
Kuldeep Yadav made these casual remarks about Ashton Agar in a conversation with The Indian Express a few days after the Australian had played an astonishing 98-run innings while batting at No.11 on his Test debut at Trent Bridge in July 2013.
Now, over a year later, his own teammates from his Uttar Pradesh/India under-19 days will have something similar to say about Yadav after he was named on Saturday in India’s ODI squad for the upcoming series against the West Indies.
In the process, Yadav, who has been a revelation for the Kolkata Knight Riders in the Champions League T20, also entered a league of his own. For while being a left-arm unorthodox spinner itself puts him in a super-exclusive club, now, having received this maiden call-up, the 19-year-old becomes the first chinaman to make the senior India team.
However, the standout fact about Yadav is not his chinaman bowling. It’s that he has broken into the team without having played a single Ranji Trophy game or even a top-flight domestic one-day match. His rise has been nothing if not meteoric.
And it has surprised Yadav himself. The bowler was preparing for Saturday’s Champions League final against the Chennai Super Kings when he got the selection news. “Selection was never on my mind. All I was thinking was about the final,” he told this paper on Saturday. “It’s a great moment for me…But I never thought I will make it so early.”
To be fair, no-one did.
On that rainy day in 2013, when he spoke of Agar half-enviously, Yadav was busy doing some last-minute shopping at a suburban Kanpur mall ahead of his flight to Sri Lanka for a nondescript under-19 tour. At that time, making the senior team was a long-term ambition, a distant dream, and his immediate focus was on cementing his place in the side for the Junior World Cup.
A good performance in that tournament, which was to be held in February-March 2014, would bring that dream a little bit closer.
In the event, the Indian colts finished a disappointing fifth in the under-19 World Cup, but Yadav, with 14 scalps in six matches including a hat-trick, was tied second on the wicket-takers list. By this time he had also aroused the Kolkata Knight Riders’ interest sufficiently to get himself an IPL contract.
The spinner didn’t get a look-in during IPL 7 but impressed in his very first outing in the CLT20. A three-wicket haul in his second game of the tournament, against the Perth Scorchers, earned rich praise, and in hindsight perhaps sealed his selection.
Yadav, who claims he learnt how to bowl spin watching YouTube videos of Shane Warne, is a big turner of the ball. His variations — especially the wrong ‘un — are beguiling, and so far he has not been afraid of tossing the ball up. Most of his victims in the CLT20 were top-order batsmen, which further bears testimony to his talent. He is hardworking too and knows that he needs to keep improving. Yadav also candidly admits that the novelty of being a chinaman often gets him wickets, but he also aware that it alone won’t take him far.
Should he get a look-in against the West Indies — and word of caution here: MS Dhoni is notoriously suspicious of newcomers — there will be another challenge. Of having to prove himself over 10 overs when batsmen are willing to be more patient.
One thing is likely. He may have been fast-tracked into the squad, but the rope is likely to be significantly shorter. Yadav will have to make whatever chance he gets count.
Otherwise, Ashton Agar’s fate may be his again. Agar was talented. Look where he is now.
(With inputs from Devendra Pandey)