Kuldeep Yadav was having a somewhat quiet time of it at the Indian Premier League till Tuesday 15 May, with nine wickets from 12 outings at an economy rate of around 8.5.
Then, back at Eden Gardens for Kolkata Knight Riders’ game against Rajasthan Royals in the Indian Premier League 2018, Yadav was back to being the bowler everyone knows he can be, picking up four wickets for just 20 runs and giving Kolkata a six-wicket win. The result put Kolkata within sight of the play-offs.
Andre Russell had struck first on the night with the wicket of Rahul Tripathi to end a first-wicket stand of 63 runs with Jos Buttler, and Yadav got into the game after that. First, he got Ajinkya Rahane out bowled with a loopy googly, and then Buttler was gone for 39 as he miscued a reverse sweep to short third man to one that bounced awkwardly.
Not long after, Stuart Binny was gone stumped after being caught on the hop with another googly, and finally Ben Stokes misread the turn altogether to pop a catch back to Yadav. Done for the day.
“There was a fair bit of pressure for me, actually,” conceded Yadav, named the Player of the Match, after the game. “I was just thinking about how to take a wicket. Jos Buttler was a set player, and he’s been tremendous throughout the IPL. I really just wanted to get him out.”
Yadav made a wonderful Test debut, against Australia in Dharamsala in March 2017, when he returned 4/68 in the Australian first innings. Since then, though, he has played just one more Test, while forming India’s frontline spin pair along with Yuzvendra Chahal in limited-overs cricket.
This was Yadav’s best performance in the tournament, and Dinesh Karthik, the Kolkata captain, had some interesting observations about the spinner, who he feels tends to go off the boil a bit at times.
“As a captain, all I need to do is make sure he’s in the right mind space. Sometimes I think he tends to slack a bit, because he’s so good at it. Sometimes I feel he’s so confident, he just gives away an easy ball,” explained Karthik.
“That’s what I keep talking to him about. He puts unbelievable effort in terms of practice and preparation, and hats off to him. He’ll be in the gym or on the ground, comes every day and bowls hard, and you can see the results. If I get him to be consistent, I think I’ll be doing a good job as a leader.”
Yadav got two of the wickets with googlies, and explained that his plan was to stick to what he is best at.
“Your strength, your basics, you can’t abandon them, you’ve to keep working at it. I don’t try too many new things, I just want to succeed in my strengths,” he said. “But in T20s, it’s a format where you’ve to keep changing things here and there. I knew Buttler would try a reverse sweep, so I bowled a quicker one. In this format, you’ve to plan for every batsman. Sometimes it goes your way, sometimes it goes the other way.”
Yadav, like many young wrist-spinners, grew up watching and idolising Shane Warne and has often spoken of his admiration for the Australian wizard.
At the IPL, Warne is a mentor with the Rajasthan team, who he led to the title in the inaugural edition in 2008 as well, and Yadav said bowling in front of Warne had motivated him to do as well as he could.
“It was a very important game for me because my idol was in front of me. That itself motivated me a lot, and I wanted to put in a good performance in front of him,” said Yadav. “I’ve been watching him from childhood, and when they appreciate your performance, it feels really good.
“Obviously, even after this now, we’ll be in touch, we’ll keep talking and whenever I get a chance, we’ll discuss bowling.”