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Away from the spotlight, Kuldeep is quietly making a strong case to be a T20I regular

Last updated on 08 Aug 2023 | 08:18 PM
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Away from the spotlight, Kuldeep is quietly making a strong case to be a T20I regular

On the day, Kuldeep’s spell in the first innings was as crucial to the side as SKY’s blistering knock

When Brandon King, in the 15th over of West Indies’ innings, toed a rank half-tracker from Kuldeep Yadav straight back into the hands of the bowler, the dismissal marked a very significant moment. It was wicket number 50 in T20Is for Kuldeep, who six years ago had begun his career in the shortest format roughly 2,500 kms away, in Jamaica. The wrist-spinner, after dismissing King, had in fact become the fastest ever Indian to the milestone, and the second-fastest in T20I history among full members.

Yet there was barely a celebration. Kuldeep did not do a fist-pump. He did not even smile. It was one of those wickets which, at first glance, did not even seem like a wicket because such was the lack of enthusiasm all around.

Somehow, it felt apt. For the moment was right in line with the theme of the series for the wrist-spinner, whose performance with the ball has barely gotten any acknowledgement despite him quietly doing an outstanding job.

After losing the toss for the second time in three games and after conceding a score that felt slightly above-par, there were fears at the halfway point that 0-3 was on the cards but a SKY special, and yet another fine knock from young Tilak Varma helped India register a comfortable victory.

Suryakumar was duly awarded the Player of the Match award for a breathtaking 44-ball 83 on a slow wicket but it can be argued that, on the day, Kuldeep’s spell in the first innings was just as crucial to the side as SKY’s blistering knock.

At 105/2 after 14 overs, having taken 25 runs off the previous 2 overs and having two set batters at the crease — including the in-form Pooran — West Indies were coasting. They were, at this point, looking at a total well beyond 160 and were in fact threatening to post a score somewhere in the 180 range.

This was when Kuldeep came in to bowl his final over, and he walked in under enormous pressure, having conceded 13 off his previous over. Only 10 minutes ago, he was taken apart by Pooran, who’d first thwarted him down the ground for a mammoth six and had then followed it up with an audacious, Maxwell-esque reverse hit.

Pooran, who took strike for Kuldeep’s final over, had the upper hand in the battle because of what he’d done to the wrist-spinner two overs ago but also because of how invincible he’d looked against spin all series. Up until this point, Pooran had faced 47 balls of spin in the series and had amassed 81 runs while being dismissed zero times. Such was his dominance that India skipper Hardik Pandya, at the toss, said that all he and his team can do is ‘hope’ that Pooran miscues one.

For Kuldeep, it was one of those ‘he has no idea what he’s walking into’ situations. 

However, in what was almost a real-life recreation of the ‘call an ambulance, but not for me’ meme, it was the wrist-spinner that ended up getting the better of Pooran on the very first ball of his final over.

The six that Pooran hit in Kuldeep’s third over was a straight hit down the ground, against a ball pitched on middle. Covering the line of the ball, the southpaw got to the pitch of the delivery and thumped it handsomely over long-on. 

He attempted to do the same here on the first ball of Kuldeep’s final over, only he failed as the bowler made two tiny adjustments that ended up making a world of difference.

While the line of the ball that got hit for a six was on middle, Kuldeep bowled this particular delivery wider. This one pitched marginally outside off. He also pulled the length back ever so slightly. A combination of the two was enough to fox Pooran, who went ahead with the big heave anyway and paid the price.

The Pooran dismissal stung the Windies, and the dismissal of King four balls later arrested all the momentum the hosts had and brought India right back into the contest. A certain 175-ish total turned into just 159, and this went a long way in helping the Men in Blue win the contest and get back into the series.

While the three wickets may make Kuldeep’s performance in the third T20I look like his best of the series so far, the wrist-spinner was arguably equally good in the first game in Tarouba. There, it was Kuldeep’s batting that received attention for all the wrong reasons but he was, by some distance, the pick of the Indian bowlers with the ball, returning figures of 1/20 when the rest of the bowlers combinedly went at 8.00 RPO, with Pandya the only other bowler to go at under 7.5 RPO.

In the first T20I, Kuldeep, in fact, bowled 62.5% of his deliveries (15/24) to Pooran but did not concede a single boundary. 

Being the stand-out bowler in consecutive games is always a good sign, but what’s even better from an Indian perspective is that Kuldeep has impressed nearly every time he’s donned the national colours since coming back into the side on the back of his 21-wicket season in IPL 2022.

The 28-year-old has now featured in 6 T20Is post IPL 2022 and has picked 9 wickets at an E.R of 5.19. He’s completed his quota of four overs in 5/6 matches and, in those matches, has gone at less than six an over on all but one occasion. That lone occasion was today, where he ended up breaking West Indies’ back by picking three wickets. 

Many feared for Kuldeep’s T20I future post the KKR debacle but the wrist-spinner has bounced back admirably, enjoying his career-best wicket-taking season in 2022 and then backing it up with his most economical season in 2023. As a result he’s now started to get a run of matches in national colours and, to his credit, he’s been making the most of the opportunities, putting in solid performances.

Rahul Dravid & Co. will be dearly hoping that Kuldeep keeps up this consistency because if he can, he will solve a major problem for the management leading into the 2024 T20 World Cup. 

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