Ever since Kuldeep Yadav has set foot in the UK he has been on fire. These are his match figures in each of the games he has played thus far on the tour: 4/21 v Ireland, 3-16 v Ireland, 5/24 v England, 0-34 v England and 6-25 v England. That’s 18 wickets in just 5 games.
Granted that these performances came against teams that aren’t well known for their prowess against spin bowling, but one cannot simply ignore the talent at the display.
Because Kuldeep Yadav is special.
He is 23.
He is a left-arm unorthodox wrist spinner. And, least of all, is a rare breed.
There are very few like him in world cricket today and Kuldeep’s skills are precious and uncommon. You could see that in the way he masterfully spun his web on England on a relatively flat pitch to produce his career-best figures of 6-25 – the first left-arm spinner to do so.
It wasn’t just about England’s inability to handle good spin bowling. Kuldeep extracted prodigious turn and unfurled a bag of variations on a surface that wasn’t conducive to spin bowling. And lest one forget, this was the 23-year-old’s first One-Day International game in England. Earlier in the month, Kuldeep had taken a five-for in his first T20I match in England.
One might be tempted to think that this is just a very fortunate phase for the young leg-spinner.
It isn’t. The stats say otherwise.
Earlier this year, in South Africa, Kuldeep scalped 17 wickets in 6 ODIs at an average of 13.88 and economy of 4.62. You couldn’t sweep him, forget the inventive strokes.
The South African wickets are even lesser productive for spin bowling and their batsmen are better equipped at handling spin than England. And yet, Kuldeep weaved his magic there with great aplomb.
There is no denying that Kuldeep has that ‘X-Factor’. While his action may be smooth, one can never predict what variations might he unravel his next delivery.
In a more artistic expression, looking at Kuldeep Yadav bowl is like listening to Hendrix’ “Foxy lady”. Did the guitar genius pay a homage much earlier to Kuldeep’s foxiness with the white-ball?
He is not easy to pick from the hands and hence even classy batsmen like Joe Root have struggled against him. The angles he creates are difficult to tackle. Then there is the flight, the drift, the deception, the varying pace, the sharp turn and the excellent control he has. All of these traits require years of experience for a spinner to master. Kuldeep seems to be gifted with them at a very young age.
With the performance he has shown, Kuldeep should now be a real contender to be a part of India’s eleven in the 5-Test series against England starting next month. That should be a no-brainer, in fact. Yes, he has played only 2 Tests as of now with 9 wickets in them. But there is no question that he shouldn’t be given at least three games to have a go at England. If he can destroy them on a dry surface in an ODI game, one can only imagine what he would do in a Test match on a fourth or fifth-day pitch against them.
Also, if Kuldeep goes on to do well in the Test series against England he may well turn out to be India’s trump card in the format on overseas tours. Taking 20 wickets in a Test match has often been Team India’s bane while touring. Kuldeep’s unique wicket-taking ability can help change that with this budding Indian bowling line up.
But are we getting a little ahead of ourselves? Remember Sri Lankan spinner Ajantha Mendis? Remember how his much-acclaimed mystery fizzled out not soon after he was brought in to Test cricket? Will rushing Kuldeep Yadav to Test cricket take out his uniqueness too?
Perhaps the best way forward, at least for the immediate future, would be to utilize Kuldeep’s services according to the pitch and the situation India is in a Test series. For instance, say India is 0-1 down in the 4-Test series later in the year on their tour to Australia. Kuldeep can be then brought in for the next two games and see how he performs. He is an aggressive spinner and using him in short bursts in Test cricket would maximize his effectiveness.
India already has spinners of high pedigree in Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja in the Test squad. Kuldeep is an added bonus for now and should be employed cautiously, as an overdose of him may take away his novelty. He is a rare talent. And it is important to nurture him well.
These are discussions for another day, though. At present, this young spinner has become a riddle that even some very accomplished batsmen are not being able to solve. We will worry about his future on some other day. For now, the magic of Kuldeep Yadav needs to be cherished.