Not sure about the football World Cup, but the dread is certainly coming home to England. Via a clean-shaven Kuldeep Yadav, who left England gobsmacked with a wonderfully-crafted five-for on Tuesday. Perhaps, Yadav should think about growing a goatee before the Tests start next month.
There is a delightful tale about the origins of Abdul Qadir’s goatee which made a sudden appearance on Pakistan’s 1982 tour of England. Imran Khan told him, “Grow it, it will develop an aura around you” — or in other words, the English would be haunted by your magician look.
Already, Qadir, who had started off with a normal action, had developed that famous whirly blurring arms to mystify the batsmen, and the final psychological tipping point was that goatee. The modern-day England’s batsmen aren’t as vulnerable mentally but the first T20, and Yadav’s trickery in the recent past, are enough to create a few doubts for sure. Goatee or not, one thing is sure, if there arises a (pitch) situation where just one spinner could play in the Tests, Indians would be foolish not to consider Yadav for that honour.
The already burgeoning evidence piled up more on Tuesday. Ask Joe Root. Fire up the cricket app on your smart phone and look at his dismissal. It might have been a T20, but Root wasn’t looking to hit out; survival was in his mind as he stretched forward to push at his first delivery.
Yadav produced a great spinning cliché: the one that hangs in the air, the one that dips suddenly at last moment, and one where the batsman is left groping in the dark. It was the googly, but that wasn’t enough to deceive Root. That would be too simple and a hark back to 80’s and 90’s England to the days of Robin Smith and Richard Blakey. Nah, this was much better. As Root stretched out, he must have realised he was in trouble.
The arms kept pushing out, the legs kept dragging out, the bat far out from the body but the damn little red thing wouldn’t arrive yet. And as a final act of doubt-filled hope, Root let his arms go through and actually stumbled out of his crease but the ball dipped and broke away with tremendous bounce that surprised even MS Dhoni, who recovered his poise to gently take out a bail.
This was a mike-drop moment for Yadav: England’s best batsman, fishing out in hope. He was so stunned and out of position that survival instinct didn’t kick in him quickly enough despite Dhoni’s fumble.
Johnny Bairstow, who has revamped his batting against spin in the recent years, too was left lurching in the dark. That googly again. And Bairstow had picked it, and tried to push it to covers but again Yadav had succeeded in disrupting the shape of the batsman. And Bairstow had a look on his face when he walked away, a glance at his partner, which said a thousand words.
Even the Alex Hales dismissal is a good one to observe closely. He had shuffled across a touch and gone for an aggressive sweep but couldn’t get any wood on the leather.
Of late, England batsmen have developed a technique that has worked well for them: No self-doubt in the shotmaking process. The bat-swings are much smoother, the intent is very visible, and they go all out in a shot. They trust their instinct and invest completely into the shot. It’s a good tactic but it deserves a slight adjustment now against Yadav. It’s not just the exoticness inherent in a Chinaman bowler that demands that caution, but by what he does with the ball.
That ability to make the ball seemingly hang in the air, loads of overspin that he imparts helps his case and demands more out of the batsmen. Not only do they need to pick his variations but need to be secure enough to delay their shot a touch, adjust the bat swing to cope.
It’s not easy, definitely not an easy for England’s batsmen as it tinkers with their recent successful approach. And that’s what makes this Yadav vs England contest all the more mouth-watering.
It’s not going to be easy for Yadav for sure. The recent case of Afghanistan’s Rashid Khan is a good example. He was almost unplayable in IPL but wasn’t that effective in the Test against India. Prior to the Test, it seemed he might cause real havoc but perhaps due to pressure and nerves of the occasion, he couldn’t reproduce that magic. Even Qadir picked just one wicket in his debut Test against England in 1977. But there is enough there in Kuldeep’s brief career for India to give him a run in Tests.
Yadav’s mentor-of-sorts Brad Hogg, the former Australian chinaman bowler who he first met in IPL and has kept a close touch over the years, has always desired one tweak in Yadav’s action.
“I would like him to straighten up in the delivery stride. He bends his knees a bit too much at release,” he had told this newspaper. It can help him be more fluent in the action, get more loop and revolutions on the ball, and hence the ability to hang the ball that much more in the air. Yadav was initially reluctant to do it as he wasn’t comfortable but one can see him attempt to do it of late. Especially on Tuesday.
There is another bit of advice from Hogg that has enough merit to be taken seriously. And this time, it’s addressed to the Indian team management. “If India need just one spinner, I think he is ready for it. He is not a T20 and ODI specialist, he is the real deal. Throw him in the Tests, I say!”
Brief Scores: India 163/2 (Rahul 101*) beat England 159 /8 (Buttler 69, Kuldeep 5-24) by eight wickets.