It isn’t often that you pick up a five-wicket haul against Pakistan and don’t end up as the biggest talking point of the match. So, in an understated fashion, Kuldeep Yadav decided to turn up against Sri Lanka too.
India managed to sneak in a 41-run win in the low-scoring thriller at Colombo but it wasn’t without being tested with both the bat and the ball on a rather challenging pitch.
Kuldeep Yadav wasn’t the best spinner on the day. That accolade would go to Sri Lanka’s 20-year-old Dinuth Wellalage. But in three matches, Yadav has become the joint-leading wicket-taker of the Asia Cup 2023 with nine wickets.
It was the first time that India lost all ten wickets to spin in a One Day International. And, the wrecker-in-chief was Wellalage who picked up 5/40. He dismissed big fishes Rohit Sharma, Shubman Gill, Virat Kohli, KL Rahul and Hardik Pandya, essentially disrupting the Indian innings and never allowing it to take off.
However, in the context of the match, it was Yadav’s 4/43 that proved to be match-winning.
A common theme in the match was the absence of a match-winning partnership on both sides. Yadav broke the partnership that could have been decisive for Sri Lanka. Sadeera Samarawickrama and Charith Asalanka were helping their team get back on track after being reduced to 25/2 before Yadav sent them back in consecutive overs.
The confidence that Yadav has been bowling with since his return to the Indian team had been dented a while back. After teams figured out how to read the ‘mystery bowler,’ Yadav often returned with disappointing match figures.
But as batters become smarter, bowlers find a way too. After sinking to a low that looked hard to come back from, Yadav found a way to swim back up. It understandably needed backing from those around him but most importantly, it needed re-invention.
As captain Rohit Sharma acknowledged in the post-match presentation on Tuesday, Yadav went back to the drawing board and worked on himself.
“He has done a lot of hard work on his rhythm,” said Sharma. “The ball is coming out nicely and you can see the results in the last 10 ODIs.”
He has picked up 23 wickets in the last ten ODIs including two four-wicket hauls and a five-for.
Rhythm and reinvention
Necessity is the mother of invention but in Yadav’s case, also reinvention. With his spot in the team in jeopardy, a knee-injury that required surgical intervention and losing his place in the Kolkata Knight Riders in the Indian Premier League, Yadav knew he had to turn things around.
What followed was a thorough self-reflection, careful examination of what his post-operative knee could handle and several technical changes.
A very evident change he made in his bowling is the speed with which he bowls at. He is much faster now and as a result, harder for the batters to read. In order to achieve that, he had to make some detailed tweaks.
At the post-match press conference after the match against Pakistan, he explained, “I have been playing regularly for the past one and half years after my knee surgery. My run-up has gone a bit straight. There is more aggression in my bowling rhythm, the approach to the crease is good, and perhaps earlier my non-bowling hand used to fall a lot, it’s under control now and it is now facing more towards the batter.”
On the advice of his physiotherapist at the National Cricket Academy, Ashish Kaushik, Yadav was cautious about not exerting his knee. He focused on bowling faster also to avoid putting load on his knee.
“I tried to bowl faster and began doing it in the practice matches in Kanpur. The batters were finding it difficult to pick me,” he explained.
“When I was selected for the India team, I started doing the same in international matches. Initially, it was very difficult for me because my rhythm was breaking. I was struggling in the IPL as well.” he added.
It took him some time to get used to it but it looks like the left-arm wrist-spinner has now settled in.
Fearless and confident
Beyond the technical and physical modifications he made, Yadav 2.0 also needed to be tougher mentally.
Being an attacking wrist-spinner, he was always a wicket-taker. But after being taken on by batters often in the last few years, things could have gone awry if Yadav went into his shell, curbed his natural instincts and became defensive.
Former India leg-spinner and Uttar Pradesh team-mate Piyush Chawla has seen Yadav from close-quarters and pointed out another reason for why Yadav has found success in the format.
“He is not scared of anything. So he is coming with an open mind, he has a clear mindset. There is no fear of failure so he is just coming and he is enjoying his bowling,” said Chawla on air with broadcasters Star Sports.
It has been a journey that consisted of failures of the past, reformation and the success of the present. After becoming the second-fastest Indian bowler to pick 150 wickets in the format, Yadav can be secure about his process.
He may not be the mystery bowler he was when he started his international career, but now reinvented, fearless and confident, Kuldeep Yadav is showing that he can still be the weapon India always wanted him to be.