Tim Paine didn’t even bother to turn back and see the disarrayed stumps. He walked back bemusedly to the pavilion, the same confounded expression Kuldeep Yadav, his hangman, has beheld in the eyes of numerous batsman and countless onlookers. A left-handed wrist spinner is rare, he’s first of the stock from his twirly-land country to have played international cricket, but the curiosity surrounding him has only amplified.
Part of that is understandable, for his brethren is as rare as it comes. But Kuldeep fails to understand the fuss. For rival teams scout for anyone remotely close to bowling left-arm wrist spin and parachutes them to the nets. Before he even got a game in Australia, reams were exhausted on the history and anatomy of his variety of bowling, made the only other contemporary practitioner of the rare form, Brad Hogg, repeat the peculiarities several times on radio, television and newspapers.
So he clarifies: “I don’t believe in mystery, if you are good enough to deceive the batsmen in air that’s more important for me.”
There’s nothing mysterious about deceiving a batsman in air, the deception through flight, drift and dip are the well-worn tools of a spinner. Paine too was deceived thus. Maybe, the particular delivery he got out, which spun a whopping 9.9 degree after pitching, Paine could have played more forward and not let the ball to land at all. But by then, Kuldeep had reduced him to a pauper, teasing and taunting him with a devious concoction of flight, drift, dip and turn. He was the sixth Australian batsman to be dismissed, all of 236 on the board, setting in motion what looks an inevitable India victory.
The preface was more exciting than the climax. He began the over, the first after tea, with a length ball that Paine defended on the back-foot, covering the turn and playing with it, the second delivery Paine assumed was going to be fuller and he dealt it with a long stride. But Kuldeep had only begun to bait him. Followed a flattish delivery outside the off-stump which he nudged with the turn. Paine now was anticipating the one that goes with the arm, that turns away a shade. So his hunch turned out to be.
So Kuldeep began all over again. The next was a fuller ball on off-stump. So the next ball, Paine, premeditated could be the one that snakes in, looking to ping him in front. But then he couldn’t fathom what he was seeing, a flighted ball outside the off-stump and he lunged into it, only that it dipped alarmingly, pitching almost at yorker length and twisted through the enormous space between his bat and pad. He was clearly anticipating the ball to reach his bat on full. Then that’s the visual trickery of flight. The drift was amplified by the angle.
It gave Kuldeep a lot of joy, because it’s how he plots his wickets and wants to get wickets. It was something he couldn’t conjure in England, where he had a nightmarish Test at Lord’s, after which he was sent back home. So two days after he landed in India from England, he buzzed his childhood coach Kapil Pandey and asked him straightaway,
Back to the drawing board
“Sir, what’s wrong with my bowling? Sensing the despair in his tone, the coach replied: “Nothing, you’re bowling well, just come home one day.” The next morning, the coach woke up to Kuldeep’s face in the drawing room. He was typically cheerful, but the coach knew he was putting on a brave face. He pacified him: “Stop worrying about the Lord’s Test, come let’s go to the academy.”
An hour later, both of them were at the nets and the coach faced a few of his deliveries. He quickly diagnosed the problem, he was tossing up the ball rather than flighting the ball, which was because he was hurrying through the action.
Subsequently the ball was not coming out his had smoothly. The flaw, he realised, crept because he was trying too hard, and the longer he waited for the wicket, the faster he became. The bowling arm too was getting a lower. “So it was basically about getting him to bowl the way he used to be,” he recollects. To strike a parallel, it’s like a batsman suddenly finds that he is getting nicked off playing his favourite shot.
So he advised him to relax, cleanse his mind from the disastrous Lord’s Test and just visualise he was just a trainee at the academy. The session continued for a week before he was picked for the India A four-day matches against South Africa. The coach counselled him: “Don’t think too much about the wickets, just focus on your bowling and be patient.”
He not only picked wickets, but also rekindled the ability to flight the ball, which Kuldeep himself considers the most potent weapon in his kitbag. The wickets against West Indies helped and consequently his morale was higher when he boarded the flight to Australia.
Having to remain patient
“When you know you have Ashwin and Jadeja, who are the best spinners (in the team) and you are the third one, there is a lot to motivate yourself and learn from them. They keep pushing me in the nets that you have to bowl this way in good areas. So I am very motivated and it is important to learn from them because they have played enough cricket and I am still learning,” he says.
But being patient isn’t simple, it can demotivate an impressionable youngster like him. But on those days when he merely bowing in the nets and carrying drinks, he embarked on a journey self-discovery, rather than thinking when he would be playing and why he isn’t considered. So he began shedding more focus on his fitness, jogging on the tracks near the Matagarup Bridge in Perth that connects the WACA and Optus over the inky Swan and picking the brains of whichever wrist-spinner he met.
In Adelaide, he conversed with Shane Warne about getting fizz, which the legendary leggie purchased even from dead tracks. Warne realised that Kuldeep wasn’t getting the fizz on good surfaces because his front-arm was going toward fine-leg, the shoulder plunging down rather than away. Then in Perth, he met his mentor Brad Hogg and sought tips on the wrong’un, Hogg advised him to use it sparsely, which he has in the match. He nailed Khawaja with a well-deployed wrong’un.
“I was thinking of bowling wrong ones to him a couple overs ago. I was bowling over the wicket and I knew that he would come after me and maybe hit at midwicket or mid on. I was lucky that the wrong one pitched in the perfect area and straightened and he hit to mid wicket,” he explains, realising that Khawaja, in an aggressive mood against spinners, was premeditating shots.
All these traits enforce Kuldeep’s burgeoning maturity. He has moved on and learnt from the Lord’s failing, is on perpetual quest for perfecting his art. But there would be no escaping the bemused expression on the face of countless curious onlookers and petrified batsmen like Paine.