It was a 27-run over. Moeen Ali was hitting Kuldeep Yadav for fun at Eden Gardens. Going beyond an Indian Premier League game between Kolkata Knight Riders and Royal Challengers Bangalore in April last year, the demolition of Kuldeep was bad news for India at that moment, with the World Cup around the corner.
The left-arm chinaman bowler was accounted for three sixes and two fours before he dismissed Ali off the final ball of the over. Kuldeep looked broken. He was on his knees and didn’t join the team huddle.
That game was sort of the unlocking of the Kuldeep secret. Ali did the damage. The bowler’s bag of tricks had been exhausted.
On Thursday, as Kuldeep addressed the press conference on the eve of the third T20 International against Sri Lanka, the IPL fixture about a year ago provided an apt back story. The bowler admitted he has become predictable. “Now everyone knows how Kuldeep bowls. He is a chinaman, who has wrong’uns and flippers. I have to bring changes in my bowling, which the batsmen can’t figure out.”
Kuldeep can still cast a spell on lower-order batsmen. His hat-trick against West Indies in Vizag in the recent ODI series is a case in point.
Shai Hope was the only top-order batsman among the three victims. However, he failed to build on it, as Nicholas Pooran and Kieron Pollard decimated him in the next match at Cuttack. Once again, Kuldeep had wilted in the face of an onslaught.
Two days ago, in the second T20I against Sri Lanka, Kuldeep took two important wickets to set things up for India. But again, he was the team’s most expensive bowler – 38 runs in four overs.
“I will definitely take the help of video analysts and speak to the bowling coach (Bharat Arun) in the nets, where we can figure out the strengths and weaknesses of various batsmen and also to know how they bat on the ground,” Kuldeep said.
Not first choice
In 2019, he played one Test, 23 ODIs and two T20Is. Ravi Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja were India’s preferred spin combination for the home Tests, so Kuldeep had to sit out. With regards to limited-overs cricket, it was the World Cup year and the focus had been on the 50-over format, in which the 25-year-old took 32 wickets at an average of 34.68; much higher than his career average of 24.79.
In the World Cup, Kuldeep took six wickets in seven matches at an average north of 56. He was dropped for the semifinal against New Zealand.
The second season blues came a year late for Kuldeep.
“It (2019) was a tough one. I learned a lot of things and the biggest positive was getting to know that I could have planned things better. If I thought more and gave more time to myself, I could have performed better,” Kuldeep said.
Once again, the IPL match against RCB could serve as a reference point. As Ali was taking him to the cleaners, Kuldeep didn’t try to slow down proceedings and thereby played into the RCB batsman’s hands. Usually, bowlers have a spring in their step when they are dominating.
They want to get back to the bowling mark as quickly as possible. But when under the pump, they take their time to upset the rhythm of the batsman. Kuldeep didn’t appear to be sticking to the basics. “If I thought more and gave more time to myself, I could have performed better,” Kuldeep admitted. He spoke about learning from his mistakes.
“In 2020, I will try to plan every game better and give myself more time… You have to give yourself more time to plan for the next game. I want to be more mentally prepared this year.”
With fast bowlers playing lead roles across formats, the India spinners have the licence to try a few things, when they bowl in the middle overs.
In Indore, Kuldeep removed Oshada Fernando and Kusal Perera in consecutive overs, both off flighted deliveries. Also, on both occasions, Kuldeep bounced back after being hit for a six. He kept attacking the batsmen. “There’s lesser load on spinners. Even in the last match, when I came to bowl it was already 10 overs and the way they (pacers) bowled, spinners could take a chance to do something different,” Kuldeep said, adding: “Sometimes it happens that the fast bowlers give too many runs and you have to bowl defensively. This is a great opportunity that the spinners could (try various things) since pacers are doing so well.”
Live on Star Sports network: Ind vs SL, 3rd T20I: 7 pm onwards