These days, you ought to have at least one wristspinner in your team to achieve success in T20s, be it in international cricket or franchise leagues happening across the world. It's almost impossible to find a T20 side that doesn't have a wristspinner in their arsenal. They have more variations than finger spinners and contribute much more in limited-overs cricket. They might end up leaking more runs but have the ability to take wickets at any stage of the innings. In short, wristspinners serve as a better wicket-taking option than other types of bowlers.
It's very easy to spot a legspinner in the world of cricket, but left-arm wristspinners are a rare breed, and Kuldeep Yadav is one of them. The Uttar Pradesh lad, who started his career as a fast bowler but later on went on to become a left-arm wristspinner, made his India debut over three years back in a Test match against Australia in Dharamsala. After the end of the 2017 Champions Trophy, India let go of R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja and added two wristspinners - Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep - to the white-ball set-up. Almost three months after the Dharamsala Test, Kuldeep made his ODI debut and a few days later, on this day, he played his first T20I for the Men in Blue.
Fondly known as 'KulCha', the two wristspinners formed a solid combination and were regularly part of the playing XI. They were winning India white-ball games both in home conditions and overseas. While Chahal is someone who has the ability to bowl that tight line and length and keep the run-flow in check, Kuldeep is more of an attacking option. The two bowlers enjoyed a lot of success until the end of 2018. Kuldeep made his T20I debut against West Indies on July 9, 2020, and from there on to the end of 2018, he and Chahal picked up the most number of wickets amongst top-10 nations. In that time frame, both Kuldeep and Chahal picked up 33 wickets but the former did it playing less number of matches and at a better average and strike rate.
The Kanpur-born wristspinner operated at an economy of just 6.7 and a strike rate of 11.5. Meanwhile, Chahal did pick up the same number of wickets but he did it at an economy of 8 and a strike rate of 14.8. He did well in the home series against Sri Lanka before performing superbly in Ireland and England. The overseas batsmen couldn't pick his variations and Kuldeep even got a five-wicket haul against England in Manchester. He also performed well for Kolkata Knight Riders in IPL 2017 and 2018 in which he picked up 29 wickets in total at an average of 26.1 and an economy of 8.2. Kuldeep had Sunil Narine and Piyush Chawla in the team to play the role of the restrictor and he was given the freedom to go for wickets.
In his first year and a half, Kuldeep enjoyed a lot of success in T20s but his form started to dip since the start of 2019 as the batsmen started to figure him out. The wristspinner had a horrible IPL 2019 in which he could only scalp four wickets in nine encounters, that too at an average of 71.5 and an economy of 8.7. In a match against Royal Challengers Bangalore, Kuldeep was smashed for 59 runs in his four overs and was then dropped from the playing XI.
Since his T20I debut till the end of 2018, India played 29 T20Is and Kuldeep featured in 17 of those. However, things haven't been the same since the start of 2019 as Kuldeep has only featured in four out of 24 T20Is that India have played in this time frame. Meanwhile, Chahal has played 15. There have been times India have dropped both of them and have gone with allrounders like Washington Sundar, Krunal Pandya and Jadeja. Both Kuldeep and Chahal are better spinners but only contribute in one facet of the game.
After Hardik Pandya injured his back in September 2018, it became very difficult to play both Kuldeep and Chahal in the playing XI. And when Jadeja came back into the squad and started performing better than Kuldeep and Chahal, India had to turn away from both of their wristspinners. To add to that, both Jadeja and Krunal provide that batting depth, while Washington himself is no mug with the bat and can also bowl with the new ball. Chahal however was always part of the squad but Kuldeep was dropped from the set-up for a while. He did have a better bowling average but leaked runs at more than nine per over.
In the shortest format of the game, teams like to have two-three players in the playing XI who can chip in both departments. The likes of Jadeja, Krunal and Washington can do that and they are also better fielders than Kuldeep and Chahal. Oh, Jadeja is a different beast altogether. India haven't played any cricket since mid-March, with all sport put on hold due to the global coronavirus pandemic. These free months have given someone like Hardik ample time to regain his fitness but even after his comeback, it's highly unlikely that India will play both Chahal and Kuldeep in the same playing XI.
"I think it’s about finding the best balance that we can as a side and not necessarily stick to one kind of combination. If all teams across the world are batting till No. 9, 10, why can’t we," said Indian captain Virat Kohli last year.
Kuldeep unarguably is a more skillful bowler but Chahal can deal with pressure situations much better and that's why the team management favours him over the left-arm wristspinner. Chahal has a bowling average of 46.7 in T20Is since the start of 2019, while Kuldeep has an average of 18.2 in the four matches that he has played in this time frame. Now, if and when the IPL happens, the tournament is going to be extremely important for Kuldeep who will have to perform exceedingly well to regain the trust of the team management.
This year's T20 World Cup is likely to be postponed, which means we might get to see two T20 World Cups and a 50-over World Cup in the next three years. Kuldeep has been training hard in the lockdown and has also been working on his bowling. The 25-year-old might treat Chahal as his "elder brother", but that's exactly who he needs to topple to get back into the Indian T20I side.