Updated: March 26, 2017 7:48:07 am
During the first Test of the India vs Australia series, coach Anil Kumble acceded to a Kuldeep Yadav request and took the young chinaman bowler to meet Shane Warne, who was one of the commentators for the Pune game. “Warne mera idol hain (Warne is my idol),” a beaming Yadav gushed on Saturday after day one of the fourth and final Test.
In a story that has echoes of the mythological archer Eklavya, Yadav, in the past, has hailed Warne as his guru without having met the great man. He insists he has learnt the nuances of wrist-spin bowling by religiously watching the YouTube videos of the legendary Australia leg-spinner. But any similarities with Eklavya end here. Yadav won’t cut his thumb as offering, he will apply his tricks on him. Or his countrymen.
“So when we met, thanks to Kumble sir, he showed me how to bowl a flipper. Aur aaj maine unhi-se seekh ke, unhi ke khiladi ko out kar diya (And today having learnt the trick from an Aussie, I dismissed an Aussie with it),” he quipped with a smile, describing how he got first Test scalp, David Warner.
Warner’s wicket, which came soon after lunch as Australia were sprinting towards a massive first innings total, triggered a collapse that resulted in the team losing nine wickets for 156 runs to be all out for 300. Yadav’s eventual figures of 4/68 in 23 overs meant that meant that on a day when the team lost Virat Kohli due to injury, India discovered a new hero.
Kohli’s exclusion from the team was expected after the Indian captain had given enough hints on Friday that his injured shoulder hadn’t healed completely. However, with the team management having flown in Mumbai batsman Shreyas Iyer as cover, it came as a surprise when it was Yadav, a rookie bowler, who replaced India’s best batsman in the team. Just before lunch, he was brought into attack and bowled some insipid stuff and it looked that India had made a blunder. But he turned up a changed bowler post meal, and the rest is why you are reading this report.
It’s a story of perseverance and redemption. Yadav has been on the India’s senior team’s radar ever since he finished joint-second on the wicket-takers list at the 2014 U-19 World Cup in the UAE with 14 scalps. He has been part of India’s limited-overs squad previously but never got to play. Fellow bowlers from the junior World Cup, South African paceman Kagiso Rabada and Bangladesh seamer Mustafizur Rahman, had gone on to become regulars for their respective teams in all formats while Yadav appeared to have hit an invisible wall — not for want of wickets, but perhaps a surfeit of spin-bowling options in India.
Then came the Duleep Trophy last year where he made the pink ball dance under lights and finished as the top wicket-taker in the event with 17 dismissals in five games. While it didn’t quite earn him a national team call-up, he was called up for the nets at the Green Park Stadium ahead of the India vs New Zealand Test — the first of the home season. What was striking to see was the keen interest Kumble took in his bowling, often pulling Yadav aside and giving him tips and feedback. The Test squad call-up came against Bangladesh and he retained his place for the Australia series. Though as the matches ticked by, the possibility of a debut became slimmer and slimmer.
“When you perform season after season and you don’t get chances, you need someone who can motivate you,” said Yadav. “My father, and my childhood coach (Kapil Pandey), they motivated me, as well as some senior players. My personal coach always told me that I would get a lot of wickets when I play, so he was a bit upset that I wasn’t being picked. I assured him that I would be getting my chance for sure because I had confidence after I bowled in the nets. Senior players like Virat bhai and coach Anil sir motivated me and told me that my chance would come.”
At last, in a Team India huddle on a glorious Saturday morning, he received the Test cap no. 288 from L Sivaramakrishnan, and a big hug from Kohli. A dream that had taken root in the bylanes of Kanpur was realised. The city has its imprint on Yadav. It could be said that you can take a Kanpuria out Kanpur, but not Kanpur out of a Kanpuria — and Kuldeep is nothing if not one to the core.
There is street-smartness about him as well as sheer self-belief. You remember that rainy July 2013 day in a Civil Lines mall where Yadav met The Indian Express for his first interview with national media. He was wearing a body-hugging tee that accentuated his chubbiness. But he carried it with supreme nonchalance. In a way Yadav reflects the 21st century small-town India that doesn’t give a fig and believes its time has come. And it percolates down to his bowling.
In 2012, he was one of the many domestic players on the Mumbai Indians roster. During one of the net sessions, he got to bowl to Sachin Tendulkar. A bundle of nerves, right? Wrong. He bowled the great man through the gates with a wrong ‘un. “First ball,” he had told this paper, before adding: “(Cheteshwar) Pujara fourth ball.”
On Saturday, too, Yadav didn’t bowl like a novice, but a 100-Test veteran. After the first two overs, the line and length was impeccable. He bravely flighted the ball, made it dip and turn. The flipper removed Warner, the chinaman did Peter handscomb in, Glenn Maxwell was foxed by the wrong ‘un, while it was the dip that got Pat Cummins.
Matt Renshaw, who scored a half century, later said Australia had done their homework on everyone in the squad, including Yadav, yet out there, when he faced the Indian spinner, it was difficult to tell which deliverywould turn which way.
“I have confidence in my skills. Even if I get hit, I think about how I wanted to bowl, whether I have been able to back my skill, use the variations I wanted…Good that he (Renshaw) said this, which means he is having difficulty,” said Yadav and laughed an infectious laugh.
As he walked off the press-conference room, it was difficult not to see one happy co-incidence: On the Test debut of a mofussil town, it was a debutant from mofussil India who shone the brightest.
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