There was enough flight on the ball. The perfect ball to drive. It drifted before it hit the surface. The drift forced the batsman to go in pursuit of it and play away from his body. There was a gap between bat and pad. The ball turned back sharply after it pitched. It found the gap. It found timber behind a stunned Peter Hambscomb. It could have spun the other way, but it did not.
Four overs later, a shorter ball pitches on middle and leg. The batsman believes a bread-and-butter flick to the on side should see it off. But, the ball has been delivered with a scrambled seam. It turns towards off, beats a squared up Glen Maxwell and rattles the stumps once again. It could have spun the other way, but it did not.
Kuldeep Yadav was emotional after his extra bounce found David Warner’s edge, which flew straight to Ajinkya Rahane at first slip. It was his success for the country. He was ecstatic – fists were pumped, arms were stretched in celebration – after he had packed off Handscomb and Maxwell in quick succession. It was his first day at work for the Indian team, in which he had deflated an Australian line-up that stubbornly snatched a draw at Ranchi. He had a fourth reason to rejoice when he accepted a return catch from Pat Cummins.
By the end of Day 1 in the decider at Dharamsala, India’s first-ever left arm wrist spinner had spun webs of various shapes and sizes around the Australian batsmen. At the start of the day, however, Kuldeep was no certain starter. The visitors could have been spared the bamboozlement, but they were not. The day could have panned out in another way for Steve Smith’s men, but it did not.
The trumpcard that paid off
For the first three Test matches, Kuldeep Yadav had warmed the bench. He seemed out of place, and not of an immediate need to the team. A couple of players were queued up ahead of him to break into the playing XI if the chance came by. They had even called in Mumbai’s middle-order batsman Shreyas Iyer as cover for Virat Kohli, who nursed an injured shoulder. They had an all-rounder in Jayant Yadav as an option too, in case they wanted to strengthen their bowling without weakening their batting much. But in a brave move, the hosts opted for Kuldeep, when their captain was ruled out of the crunch Test. It could have been any other player, but it was not.
After Kuldeep had made Maxwell, fresh from a century in the last Test, look like a tailender, Anil Kumble had come down to the fence to discuss tactics with the 22-year-old from Uttar Pradesh. The Indian coach had realised the value Kuldeep had added to India’s attack on the day. An outsider for most of the series, Kuldeep had now turned into India’s trump card.
The 22-year-old from Kanpur had pulled the game back in India’s favour with three wickets in the session after the hosts had endured a horror morning. But he was yet to soak in the impact of his own efforts. When he led the team back to the pavilion at tea, he still seemed uncomfortable doing so.
The fact is that Kuldeep had chosen a grand stage to announce his arrival to world cricket. In the purest form of the game, one which India could ill afford to slip up in, Kuldeep had outshone his more illustrious teammates – World No 1 Ravindra Jadeja and World No 2 R Ashwin. He could have had an ordinary first day at work, but he did not.
From left-arm pace to left-arm spin
But, had it not been for his childhood coach Kapil Pandey, Kuldeep may not have seen this day at all. The youngster idolised the Pakistan legend Wasim Akram and his left-arm pace. The coach, however, realised that he did not have the physique of a pacer, and asked him to switch to spin.
The Kanpur lad detested the change. He even admitted to have cried post the change, but he managed to turn it into the right-handers once he tried his hand at spin. The amount of turn and the unorthodox nature of the turn – left-arm spinners usually turn it away from the right handers, impressed his coach.
Kuldeep was not aware of what “chinaman” bowlers were, but soon realised he had special talent. He found a new idol and decided to watch videos of Shane Warne’s bowling.
The similarity with the Australian spin wizard is glaring – the front arm goes across the forehead in the opposite direction before moving sidewards on the follow-through.
“I have grown-up watching his videos. My coach would tell me to take a cue from where his front foot lands and where his front arm is,” Yadav had once explained to the correspondent during his Under-19 days.
The Warney influence
Chinaman bowling earned Kuldeep immense success in age-group cricket. Life got even better for him when Shane Warne was once present to watch him bowl at the National Cricket Academy.
“After watching me, Warne was very impressed and told me ‘keep adding variations and you will succeed’,” Kuldeep had disclosed then. He took the Australian spin wizard’s advice seriously and honed his game. A few years after the chance meeting, the mystery of Kuldeep’s variations had left the country of Warne’s birth dumbfounded.
“All the success I have had up until now, will only be worth it when I do well for our national team at the highest level,” Kuldeep had mentioned after the 2014 U-19 World Cup.
Three years later, his wish had come to life with success on Test debut. “I am very happy,” said the 22-year-old. “A dream come true for me. In a Test match. Can’t ask for more than this.”
In fact, he may not have been a cricketer had his father not pushed him to take up the sport. Plump as a kid, he was introduced to cricket mainly for fitness reasons. Kuldeep could have been anything but a cricketer, but he was not meant to be.
Rising up the ranks
Once he had chosen cricket as his calling, he has startled batsmen with his art at every stage. He rose swiftly through the age-group teams, was India’s top wicket-taker in the 2014 Under-19 World Cup and broke into the Indian Premier League soon after. He castled Sachin Tendulkar’s stumps as a teenager at a Mumbai Indians net session to earn the batting maestro’s praise. Soon, he was a part of the Kolkata Knight Riders, for whom he has played a handful of games already.
After an ordinary first first-class season, the 22-year-old was Uttar Pradesh’s leading wicket-taker with 35 wickets in the last Ranji season.
Yet, when Kuldeep was chosen over a specialist batsman, an all-rounder and more experienced bowlers for Dharamsala, it was a gamble. India had gone in with a rookie bowler in place of the injured Kohli – their best batsman – in a game they must win to keep a shock Australia series triumph at bay. By the time stumps were drawn, the gamble India had carried out with a poker face left the visitors bewildered.