Despite its rich lineage of multi-hued spinners, India’s slow bowlers have mostly operated within the frameworks of orthodoxy. Anil Kumble was an exception — a leg-spinner who predominantly used his fingers than wrists — but he was unconventional, not unorthodox. Thus, in the strictest sense, India’s first unorthodox spinner, is chinaman bowler Kuldeep Yadav. Here again, a left-arm wrist spinner is not exactly a mystery bowler but it’s an extremely elusive and a hugely difficult craft.
So understandably, there was much hype when Kuldeep made his debut against Australia in Dharamsala in the series, when India decided to field three spinners.
It’s unlikely that India will go with three slow bowlers for the final Test that starts today, however, the Chinaman bowler from Kanpur is expected to in the playing XI that will miss ICC’s top-ranked bowler Ravindra Jadeja. Being the second-spinner in the dead-rubber Test in Pallekele makes things easy for the 22-year-old. The irrelevance of the result unshackling him from any pressure whatsoever.
Back then at Dharamsala, Kuldeep lived up to the hype, beguiling the Australians with his cunning and discipline. He made a masterly presentation of his tricks—he nailed Glenn Maxwell with a beautiful wrong one, which pitched on the middle stump and broke away to dislodge the off-bail. He exhibited his full assortment of skills—the stock ball that alluringly veers into the right-hander, the skidder that bullets into him, and the one that nips away from him. He showed good control and an air of shrewdness, revelling in the delectable art of dipping the ball, in such a way that the batsman misjudged the length several times.
Quite understandably, he was benched for the next two Tests, the first two of the Sri Lanka series. He would have sat out of the entire series, but for Jadeja’s suspension. Likewise, his appearances will be sporadic, only when either Jadeja or Ashwin is rested, injured or suspended. He has made peace with it, “Definitely, you will have to wait for your chance if the no.1 and no.2 spinners are in the same squad as you. You cannot walk into the team so easily and you have to wait. That’s the rule of cricket,” he had said.
Kuldeep, though, is relevant to Kohli. He bridles with promise. Forget the mystery part, for the novelty of it will eventually fade as word goes around and his craft is dssected threadbare.
But a wrist-spinner with immaculate control is, generally, independent of conditions, and doesn’t need splintered wickets or dustbowls to weave his deception. Considering that India are scheduled to play in South Africa, England and New Zealand next year, he would be a priceless weapon for Kohli.
A quality wrist-spinner—he seems to be one, though he will be asked to prove it again—has been a luxury for Indian skippers. When Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh, even if they were finger spinners, were at their peaks, the captains were not made to rue the absence of one, for they had grasped a profound mastery of conditions. But in the years subsequent to Harbhajan’s confounding dip, the skippers have struggled with their spinners overseas.
A case in point is Ashwin, who struggled in South Africa and England, before showing sporadic threat in Australia. In nine Tests in England, Australia and South Africa, he has just bargained 24 wickets at an average of 56. 58.
So has been Jadeja, who tend to turn defensive and forlorn when the surface doesn’t disintegrate like it does in the subcontinent. Consequently, his 18 wickets overseas have cost 46.16 runs apiece. So much so that Virat Kohli, in his first match as stand-in skipper for MS Dhoni, was prompted to pick the callow leg-spinner Karn Sharma in the eleven at Adelaide.
It backfired—though he did manage to spin the ball, he dished up boundary balls on a platter to Smith and Co.
But Kuldeep, unlike Sharma, is more gifted, though the gifts have to be carefully nurtured. For spinners, especially wrist spinners, need a bit of mollycoddling, in that they tend to drift away when they don’t get sufficient opportunities. Kohli, though, values the preciousness of Kuldeep.
“A chinaman bowler is always something which is an x-factor in a team. When you hand him the ball he is willing to bowl in any situation, willing to bowl with attacking fields, willing to throw the ball up towards the batsmen, he believes in his own ability and believes in deceiving the batsmen with the skill that he has,” he pointed out.
Despite his hierarchy in the team, Kohli’s sharp mind will be assessing Kuldeep, and if he continues to log in noteworthy performance, Kohli wouldn’t mind tearing the hierarchy.