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How Kuldeep Yadav’s x-factor has helped India turn around the series

Last updated on 22 Feb 2024 | 01:05 PM
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How Kuldeep Yadav’s x-factor has helped India turn around the series

All series, the left-arm wrist spinner has produced timely momentum-shifting spells and strikes that have stymied England

Three years ago, an injury to Ravindra Jadeja indirectly put an unexpected halt to Kuldeep Yadav’s Test career. 

For the longest time, Kuldeep had been the next cab in the rank but Jadeja’s injury prior to the England series at home forced the management to look for a like-for-like replacement, due to which they drafted Axar Patel into the side.

The rest is, well, history. 

In one of the greatest debut showings of all time, Axar took 27 wickets @ 10.59 a piece in the three Tests he played to firmly cement his spot as the third spinner in the XI. 

Axar’s impregnability with the bat further strengthened his hold in the side, and for three years, the left-arm spinner proved to be indispensable, creating daylight between himself and Kuldeep, who played all of two Tests between Jan 2021 and Jan 2024. 

Lo and behold, In Rajkot last week, this particular chapter in Kuldeep’s career came full circle as he displaced Axar in the starting XI to re-establish himself as the third best spinner in the country.

And poetically, it was an injury to Jadeja that enabled him to make his case (in Vizag) and usurp his compatriot, Axar.

Funny how life plays out sometimes, isn’t it?

At first sight, Axar getting discarded from the XI might look absurd. Scandalous, even. 

He does, after all, still average an outrageous 19.34 with the ball. On top of that, he’s been one of the best batters at home since his debut, amassing 594 runs at an average of 39.60.

A player with all-round numbers like this getting dropped is almost unheard of.

But that India opted to leave out Axar anyway is a testament to the excellence of Kuldeep, who in the space of two Tests has gone from being out of the picture to becoming undroppable.

8 wickets in 4 innings at an average of 28.37 might not look like groundbreaking numbers, but Kuldeep has been one of the biggest reasons why India have managed to successfully turn around this series. 

Unlike Jasprit Bumrah, Kuldeep, in this series, has not had phases of play in which he’s run through the opposition. He’s taken 3+ wickets only once, and those three wickets also had a 2+1 split. 

However, what he’s done is produce timely momentum-shifting spells and strikes that have stymied England. 

Take the second Test in Vizag, for instance. Years down the line, the game will be remembered for Bumrah’s mesmerizing spell which saw him run riot. 

However, Kuldeep produced three moments of magic that were pivotal to turning the contest in India’s favour.

The first of the three came on Day 2 of the Test when England were threatening to run away with the game at 59/0 after having bowled India out for a seemingly under-par total (396) on a flat wicket. Both Zak Crawley and Ben Duckett were seeing the ball like a football, threatening to make easy work of India’s total.

India, briefly, looked short of ideas, but Kuldeep struck in his very second over, getting an ‘in-the-zone’ Duckett caught at silly point after generating extra bounce off the surface.

He then, later in the innings, post Bumrah’s spell, removed Ben Foakes and Rehan Ahmed in the space of three overs to drive home India’s advantage, but his most significant contribution of the game came on the fourth day.

Chasing 399, England had an outside chance of knocking down the target at 194/4, with Crawley batting like a dream on 73*. The partnership between Crawley and Bairstow was already 40 (off just 65 balls) and the counter-attack was starting to ping back India. That the wicket was still not doing a lot added to the hosts’ frustration a touch.

However, having bowled four wicketless overs in that innings up until that point, Kuldeep struck the decisive blow by trapping Crawley on the crease with a quicker one. 

Kuldeep did not pick another wicket in the innings, but he did the damage with that one pivotal breakthrough: England collapsed from 194/4 to 220/7 and eventually ended up losing the game by 106 runs. 

Kuldeep showcased his x-factor in Vizag, but in Rajkot, he enjoyed one of his finest moments as a Test cricketer to well and truly show the world that he’d arrived (once again). 

By stumps on Day 2, England had shaved off nearly 50% of the first innings deficit and they’d done so in just 35 overs thanks to a stunning assault from Duckett, who smashed the fastest ever century by an Englishman in India. But things got a whole lot worse for India after stumps as Ravichandran Ashwin, their trump card on the spin front, exited the squad mid-way through the game due to a personal emergency.

Flat wicket. Two set batters (one of them batting on 133*).  First-choice spinner gone. 

All of a sudden, India were staring down the barrel. 

Under these circumstances, Kuldeep bowled a marathon, unbroken 12-over spell in the first session that turned the game and subsequently the series in India’s favour.

Having been hammered for 42 runs off the 6 overs he bowled on the second day, swept off the surface by Duckett, a stunning turnaround witnessed Kuldeep register figures of 12-1-35-2 on the morning of Day 3. 

Having bowled a tad too straight on Day 2, Kuldeep course corrected and took the sweep away from Duckett on Day 3. 

The same Duckett who ransacked 29 runs off 16 balls off Kuldeep on the second day managed only 11 runs off the first 16 balls of the wrist-spinner he faced on the morning of Day 3. 

Kuldeep kept building the pressure and eventually reaped rewards as Duckett, desperate to break the shackles, ended up hitting a rank long-hop straight into the hands of cover.

Duckett’s dismissal was Kuldeep’s second wicket of the morning. 10 overs earlier, he’d sent Jonny Bairstow packing for a duck via a ball that turned in sharply and took the right-hander by surprise. 

That was a significant moment as it meant India doubled-down on the early dismissal of Joe Root by taking 2 wickets in 5 balls to put England under extreme pressure and get back on top of the contest. 

Kuldeep ended the innings with only two scalps to his name, but he was, by a distance, the standout bowler for India in that game-turning morning: he induced a staggering 23.6% false shots when no other bowler even managed more than 20%. He was unlucky to not get the wicket of Stokes, who survived by a whisker on multiple occasions. 

In many ways, India have turned back the clock through the kind of wickets they’ve dished out in this series, which have been more reminiscent of the 2016-19 era rather than the 2021-2023 period which saw plenty of sharp turners. Regardless of whether the ploy is deliberate or not, it has ended up working in the favour of Kuldeep, who’s showcased his ability to be a difference maker on good batting surfaces.

For the longest time, Axar’s batting gave him the edge over Kuldeep. However, post the Hyderabad defeat, India identified that, when it came to playing against this England side, potency with the ball trumped a few extra runs, especially on batting-friendly surfaces. 

They identified that the only way they were going to beat this England side was by punching a hole right through the heart of the visitors’ batting line-up.

Two games in, Kuldeep, the designated Hitman, has executed his task to perfection. 

One more hit for him will help India seal the series for good. No Bumrah will prove to be a relief for England in Ranchi, but for the Three Lions, there’ll be no getting past this Indian side until and unless they find a way to neutralize the threat of Kuldeep. 

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