On Sunday, an Indian bowling chinaman had his first ever bowl in an ODI at a venue where a Chinaman invented his unique style of bowling, nearly a century ago. And for good measure, he was sending a bunch of West Indians in a real tailspin. It wasn’t just that he was leaving the opposition batsmen leaden-footed or with two left feet at the crease. Like he did during his other international outing before this, the Test in Dharamsala against Australia, Kuldeep Yadav was bringing back the phrase “imagine being done in by a chinaman” back in vogue, that too at the Queen’s Park Oval, which witnessed it being used for the first time for Ellis Achong.
It was ironic in a way. Only two months ago, the young spinner was dragged into the Virat Kohli-Anil Kumble fracas as allegedly being the unintentional straw that broke the camel’s back in the already shaky relationship between the captain and coach during the Australia series. Some reports claimed Kumble wanted Kuldeep for the third Test in Ranchi but Kohli got his way and didn’t play him. Kumble then duly had his way in the following Test at Dharamsala, which Kohli missed due to a shoulder injury and the team was led by Ajinkya Rahane. But here was Kohli running over to his young spinner repeatedly, looking as amazed and overawed as the batsman who’d just been bamboozled by the chinaman bowler.
Kuldeep finished with figures of 3/50 in his nine overs. But like is the case with spinners who operate with a tinge of mystery, it wasn’t so much the wickets but the impact he was having on his victims that stood out more. The spell didn’t start too well for Kuldeep with Shai Hope, who showed rare skill against spin for a modern West Indian batsman, deciding rightly to put the youngster off his game early. Kuldeep ended up conceding four fours and a six in his first 19 deliveries. The first two came in his very first over with Hope picking the length early and sweeping him. Bajan opener then produced another sweep in Kuldeep’s next over, getting him to shorten his length and flatten his trajectory as a result, and then smacking a short ball over the deep mid-wicket boundary. Early into his first-ever spell in ODI cricket, Kuldeep was suddenly under pressure.
Despite the very obvious and distinct edge that he brings to the mix, simply by being different and unusual if nothing else, Kuldeep’s rise to the top hasn’t been sudden or meteoric like it would be expected. He’s worked his way up ever since making an impression when he represented India in the U-19 World Cup a few years ago. And apart from his many variations, all delivered from a busy and springy action, Kuldeep has also developed a temperament where being hit for runs doesn’t frazzle him. Aggression to boot In the Dharamsala Test, he had Glenn Maxwell bowled with a googly that left the right-hander looking like a rabbit in front of the lights after the Australian had lofted him over mid-on off the previous delivery.
That’s generally been his response to being hit for a boundary. Unlike many other spinners, his immediate reaction doesn’t seem to be limiting the damage, but getting rid of its source. Invariably, his follow-up to a boundary ball ends up being slower in the air, as if he’s tempting the batsman for an encore. Like he did with Hope here. Two overs after the first six — by which time Kuldeep had sent back Evin Lewis with a dipping leg-break that beat the charging left-hander — Hope struck No.2, this one a delectable inside-out lofted drive that flew over the extra-cover boundary. The next ball was given air again, getting Hope to go down on his haunches to attempt a sweep. But the ball dipped, landing short enough of where the batsman was expecting it to, and subsequently snuck under his bat and struck him on the pad. A review later, Hope was gone, and Kuldeep had two. Later in the day, Kohli would pick Kuldeep’s this very skill as being the difference-maker.
“When batsmen try to attack, he can slow his pace down, just beat the batsmen halfway into the pitch. So he’s quite amazing with what he does with the ball. I’ve faced him in the IPL as well, he’s not easy to get away – especially when the wicket is dry like it was today, he becomes even more lethal,” Kohli would say. Quiver full of arrows While chinaman bowlers have been a novelty and continue to be so in international cricket, those who have played over the last few decades – be it Paul Adams or Brad Hogg – didn’t quite have the variations that Kuldeep seems to possess. Adams was predominantly a googly bowler and hardly turned the leg-break.
Hogg, on the other hand, had an excellent flipper and a deceptive googly, but he didn’t slow his pace down enough to be a major threat in the longer format. Kuldeep, though, on the basis of his two outings at the highest level, seems to have it all. West Indian skipper Jason Holder was the third one to fall to Kuldeep, the first chinaman bowler to bowl in an ODI at the Oval since Hogg in 2003, on Sunday. He was done in by a googly that was again slower in the air and beat his attacking intent post leaving the crease.
That batsmen would consistently get beaten by Kuldeep’s googly doesn’t surprise his captain. Kohli put it down to the inability to read the chinaman exponent from the wrist. Coming from Kohli, who probably picks lengths against spin better than most in the modern era, it was quite a compliment. “It becomes difficult when he bowls cross-seam deliveries turning both ways. Usually bowlers bowl seam-up deliveries turning in and cross seam bowling the googly. But he can do both bowling cross seam, so that becomes difficult to pick from the wrist,” he said.
Considering they reached the final without much hassle, it would be difficult to say that India missed a trick at all during the Champions Trophy. The final, of course, was an aberration. But having a wrist spinner of Kuldeep’s unexposed wizardry could only have given their already formidable bowling attack that added edge. For, like he’s proved already, even if he might be profligate in terms of conceding runs, he will make up for it with crucial wickets, generally in a bunch. And we can be rest assured that there’ll be many more being undone by the chinaman, not just over the two weeks in the Caribbean, but across the world over the next few years.