For the better part of 2018, Siddarth Kaul hogged the limelight for his exploits in white-ball cricket. It began with a series of career-defining performances in the Indian Premier League for Sunrisers Hyderabad, where he managed to stand out in the company of illustrious team-mates such as Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Rashid Khan.
Most of his success was due to clever deception, economy and pinpoint accuracy, especially while bowling in the death overs. Consequently, Kaul finished with 21 scalps from 17 matches, which put him third in the list of wicket-takers for the season. The efforts in the IPL helped him clinch a spot in India’s limited overs squad for the tour to England and the subsequent Asia Cup. Kaul was also drafted in for a quadrangular ‘A’ series in Bengaluru, where he held his own against some of the best prospects from South Africa and Australia.
However, even as Kaul’s reputation in the shorter formats grew, very often his indefatigable spells for Punjab with the red ball often went unnoticed. Kaul puts it down to just perceptions.
“My form in long-form cricket has always been good. I don’t bother about such perceptions as every format demands 100 per cent from a player,” he quipped.
157 wickets in a day! What’s wrong with batting these days
Batting time in long-form cricket is increasingly becoming a rare skill. On a day that 157 wickets fell in the Ranji Trophy throughout the country, one can only draw the conclusion that batsmen are finding it difficult to occupy the crease and graft for runs, even when conditions are far from extreme. And it is not a trend restricted to domestic cricket. The number of drawn Tests has fallen considerably in recent times, with 2018 seeing only four of them. That's why the rearguard stone-walling on show by New Zealand against England in Christchurch in April and the 140-over second innings effort by the Aussies against Pakistan in Dubai last month stay in memory. Even most of the matches that provided a result didn't enter the fifth day. Apart from the shortcomings in technique, the abundance of limited-overs cricket means batsmen can't wait for long before going for the big shot even when they can rotate the strike with ease. Fielding captains these days employ in-out fields, allowing several outlets for singles, knowing batsmen will get bored and go for the big shot even with men on the boundary.
In fact, the 28-year-old has been Punjab’s go-to bowler in the Ranji Trophy for well over a decade now. On a crisp winter morning at the Ferozshah Kotla, Kaul used that experience to showcase a bowling masterclass on a track supposed to suit slower bowlers.
Kaul used the early morning nip to good effect and got the ball to swerve and spit precariously, much to the discomfort of the Delhi batsmen.
He ran through the top order like a hot knife through melting butter, plucking six wickets to skittle Nitish Rana’s team for a paltry 107 on Day 1.
Keeping in simple
It was simple, old-fashioned seam and swing bowling, bereft of any of the fancy deceptions that have made Kaul such a sought-after bowler in limited-overs cricket in recent times. The defining feature of his bowling was the astute use of the conditions on offer, more specifically the length he hit on the pitch.
For a brief while, Kaul did fall into the trap of pitching it right up to the batsmen, which elicited a flurry of boundaries. When the seasoned campaigner brought his length back, the results were instant.
“There was help on offer early in the morning. But the key to bowling on this track was adjusting the length. I began by pitching it up, and was driven for a couple of boundaries. That was when I held my length back, and it troubled the batsmen,” he explained after the day’s play. That nagging length apart, it was the clever use of the bouncer, which proved to be the undoing of Delhi’s batsmen.
Of the six scalps, it’s the wicket of Varun Sood that stood out. Kaul set Sood up with a flurry of length deliveries outside off-stump, followed by a searing bouncer, which he fended off sheepishly to Jiwanjot Singh in the slips.
“In such conditions, batsmen tend to lunge forward to play their shots. So, I decided to surprise them with the short-pitched delivery,” the bowler said.
Kaul’s efforts at the Kotla on Wednesday was put in perspective when one considers that both teams picked just a solitary pacer each, packing the playing XIs with spinners.
“Everyone, including me, thought this wicket will turn. It was definitely slow and low. But the moisture on offer was something that I utilised well as the single fast bowler in the team. The most important aspect was the area I chose to bowl at and that worked in my favour. It is important that you visualise where you need to pitch the ball and get purchase out of it,” the Punjab pacer noted.
The pitch is expected to be more receptive to spin as the match progresses, but the manner in which Delhi’s spin trio in Varun Sood, Vikas Mishra and Pulkit Narang bowled on Day 1 would not worry the visitors too much.
The reason why they couldn’t trouble Punjab’s batsmen was their flatter trajectory. Barring a few hiccups, the visitors notched up 136/3 in reply, with captain Mandeep Singh easing himself to an unbeaten 54 when stumps were drawn.
Brief Scores: Delhi: 107 in 42.5 overs (K. Bidhuri 27; Siddarth Kaul 6/32) vs Punjab: 136/3 in 45 overs (Mandeep Singh 54 not out; Vikas Mishra 2/27).