Scene 1: Peter Handscomb stepped down the track and took Kuldeep Yadav’s delivery full on, working it past mid-wicket for four. It was lovely footwork from the Australian batsman who has shown a patient approach to playing spin. But when tempted even the most persevering batsman breaks loose, and the spinner played on this weakness.
On the eighth ball Handscomb faced after that boundary, his eyes lit up once again – looping in the air, just a tad longer. Only this time, the length was a bit fuller and the ball drifted between bat/pad, shattering his stumps. Yadav leapt up with a cry of joy.
Scene 2: Glenn Maxwell smacked one as it turned in, giving it ample lift and the shot nearly cleared the mid-on fence. So far, he had handled Yadav quite well. Trying to play with the turn, he waited to see how the ball reacted off the pitch. Only thing, he had just faced 14 deliveries yet, not nearly enough to read the new mystery spinner right.
“He uses a lot of scrambled seam. We had studied his videos before the tour because we prepare for everyone in the opposition. But he was tough to pick unless you stayed long at the crease,” said Mathew Wade after the day’s play.
On the 15th delivery that Maxwell faced then, Kuldeep brought out a ripper – a googly with scrambled seam. The ball dipped enough to entice the batsman forward, only for him to realize he had to go back. By the time Maxwell understood this though, he was bowled, making a mockery of his ability to counter. The bowler ran to square leg in sheer delight.
He had a dream
Like any other cricketer roaming in the wilderness of domestic cricket, Kuldeep Yadav dreamt of this day for long. He waited and waited, then waited some more. He knows he is unique (the first chinaman to play for India), and nearly everyone reminds him of the same, be it his father, childhood coach, various teammates in the domestic circuit, selectors or his national teammates now. All this while, sitting on the bench as another international season drew to a close, it has been a game of patience for this bowler.
Sample this. Yadav was told on Friday evening that he was in the final twelve. Looking in the mirror, he would have told himself that the prized cap was within reach. Did it depend on the fitness of India’s greatest cricketing treasure at the moment? Perhaps not, for India’s strategy suggested that Yadav would have played even if Virat Kohli had been fit. A fringe cricketer never counts his chickens before the eggs hatch though.
“It was only in the morning I was told I would be playing,” he said after the day’s play. His calm revelation was in contrast with the morning’s drama. With Kohli ruled out, everyone gathered at 8am at the HPCA stadium thought Shreyas Iyer had been handed his Test debut. Only when the team huddle cleared, the surprising pick came forth, wearing a mint-condition India cap. In summation with the dismissals descried above, if this were a script, Kuldeep’s life so far would make for a dramatic movie.
The Warne impact
Incidentally, one of the pivotal scenes of this impending blockbuster were written in Pune, after India had crashed to a massive 333-run defeat within three days. Long after the dust had settled, Anil Kumble walked towards Shane Warne as the latter finished his television commitments. In tow with the Indian coach was Yadav. Thereafter, Kumble stood and watched as the two talked about, well, leg spin.
“Warne is my idol and I have followed him since childhood. I only watched his videos until now and my dream came true when I met him (in Pune). I couldn’t believe I was speaking to him, sharing thoughts on bowling, and he was telling me what all I should be doing. I did exactly what he told me to do,” Yadav said with an electric smile, similar to one when a kid gets his favourite candy, a lot of it.
In light of his words, Australia’s second wicket became a vital moment in the first day’s play of this series-deciding Test. After losing an early wicket, Steve Smith and David Warner put on 134 runs at more than 4/over, the highest second-wicket partnership of this series. While the former was flowing smoothly, the latter was scratching around, yet the duo’s impact could be seen on the game clearly. The morning session floated away from India in the blink of an eye.
In the fourth over after lunch though, Yadav got his maiden Test wicket. A flipper – Warner went for his shot early and the ball got high on him as he tried to play late, lobbing a catch to slip where Ajinkya Rahane was ever alert. The debutant ran and hugged his (stand-in) skipper; maybe there was a tear in his eye. Most certainly though, there was relief. He belonged here.
“Learning (how to bowl a flipper) from Warne and then getting out his countryman (Warner) is a great thing. My coach always told me that I will play for India and that I will pick up a lot of wickets on the day I do,” Yadav said, a spunky confidence reflecting in his tone, one that showed up on the field as well, when he didn’t back down as Handscomb and Maxwell hit him for boundaries.
His performance – 4 for 68 – put Saturday’s proceedings in perspective. Smith scored his third hundred of the series, and seventh in eight Tests against India stretching back to their 2014-15 tour. He averages 112.90 against this opposition, and that’s an insane figure whichever way you look at it. If there was any debate over who is the best batsman (Tests) in the world currently, Smith had silenced it in Pune.
Since then, he has just rolled on with the flow with hundreds in Ranchi and now here in Dharamsala, for that is what in-form batsmen do. Winning the toss and putting Australia in command by lunch was just an extension of the same, only for a debutant to put on the brakes and bring India back into this Test.
Yadav did more than this, though. He first featured for India in Test cricket along with the two top-ranked spinners in world cricket, and out-bowled them. It is not to say R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja were ineffective. Instead, the underlying point is in how this Indian attack operates – in pairings, while one bowler is attacking and picking wickets, the others bowl around him.
On his first day in international cricket then, the Indian attack bowled around a debutant who enjoyed a glorious day out in the Himalayan sun. Never mind if someone makes a movie about his life or not, Kuldeep Yadav has a heck of a story to tell his grandchildren.