Despite being among the wickets across formats, Kuldeep Yadav hasn’t got enough chances to don the national colour for various reasons in the past few years.
But a much improved and confident version of the left-arm wrist spinner with his mojo back is now ready to become India’s trump card and X-factor against Australia in the Border-Gavaskar Test series starting February 9.
After a five-wicket haul in Sydney in 2019, then head coach Ravi Shastri had termed Kuldeep as India’s No. 1 spinner in overseas conditions, but it didn’t translate in him getting regular chances.
Overseas conditions were understandable, but the duo of Virat Kohli and Shastri lost faith in his abilities, even on rank turners in India.
The UP-born Chinaman continued to be in the shadow of star spinners Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Axar Patel.
As far as white ball cricket is concerned, the likes of Yuzvendra Chahal, Rahul Chahar, Varun Chakravarthy and even young Ravi Bishnoi went ahead of Kuldeep in the pecking order among spinners in India.
As expected, Kuldeep was low on confidence, lost his wicket-taking potency and his ordinary outings for KKR in IPL wasn’t helping his case either, which was disheartening for his fans.
In between, he also underwent a surgery in September 2021 and looked all over the place and was out of contention for an India spot. But as they say, nothing lasts forever, so was Kuldeep’s bad patch.
Kuldeep reinvented himself with a vigour in his action that helped him get more drift and dip. Under new Indian team management of Rohit Sharma and Rahul Dravid, he slowly but steadily came back in the scheme of things. He also found a new IPL team in Delhi Capitals, where he succeeded under the young captain Rishabh Pant.
However, after a fruitful IPL 2022, where he picked up 21 wickets in 14 matches, the spinner was once again sidelined due to injury.
A hairline fracture in his wrist forced him out of India’s T20I series against South Africa in June last year, as well for the white-ball tours of Ireland and England that followed, and even after getting fit, he couldn’t make it to India’s T20 World Cup squad.
The time away from the game helped Kuldeep work on his rhythm, variations and made him come back stronger. Earlier, his action was much more open-chested and his right hand was falling away from the point of target, but now Kuldeep has made the adjustment and his non-bowling arm goes towards the batters, which is helping him get a better trajectory.
Kuldeep has also worked on the arm speed, which was a bit slower. His run-up has become smoother and his body is going towards the batsman in the follow-through. As a result, the line of attack he is bowling has got better.
According to cricket experts, the improved version of Kuldeep is far more lethal. If he can just figure out whether he should bowl round the stumps or come over the wicket against the left-handers, the spinner can put more pressure on batters and can pick up wickets at any point of time.
With all his improvements, Kuldeep bagged the player of the match award for his five-for in the only Test he played in the series in Bangladesh in December last year.
However, he didn’t find a place in the playing Xi for the second Test, which has been the case with Kuldeep for many years.
Leaving that non-selection behind, Kuldeep produced match-winning spells in the ODI series at home against Sri Lanka and New Zealand, and forced his way into the India squad for the first two Tests against Australia, starting in Nagpur next week.
Given their track record at home, seniors spinners Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja are sure shot starters for India. Left-arm spinner Axar can also contribute well with the bat, so Rohit Sharma and Rahul Dravid might face the dilemma in picking between him and Kuldeep.
No doubt that the runs scored by Axar lower down the order becomes crucial, but Kuldeep can be an X-factor for India.
Meanwhile, Australia have roped in Baroda tweaker Maheesh Pithiya, who has a strong resemblance to Ashwin in terms of bowling action, as a strategy to tackle India’s star off-spinner.
But Kuldeep belongs to a rare breed of spinners, who can trouble the Aussie batters even on a good batting track. He is in red-hot form and the Indian team management should cash in on that opportunity and let Kuldeep play a major part in the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.
Kuldeep, who has been a genuine wicket-taker for India regardless of the format he has played in, deserves a chance to play and it is high time that the Indian team management shows enough faith in him to come good.