After a bout of self-doubt led to listless performances, shades of the Kuldeep Yadav of old made an appearance in the Sri Lanka tour, but there’s still more to be done.
Kuldeep Yadav has rotten luck. No, really. As much as his performances have spiralled down in the last couple of years, luck, often an understated aspect in sport, has often deserted the left-arm wrist spinner who ruled the roost for a brief while in international cricket.
Take the recent Sri Lanka tour for instance. After a promising show in the ODIs, Kuldeep finally had some luck going his way when he managed to be one of the eleven available players — the rest going into isolation after being deemed as close contacts to COVID-19 positive, Krunal Pandya — ahead of the second T20I.
But, on his lucky break, Kuldeep did not get any favours; the fielders dropped chances of his bowling (twice) and a blatant LBW call went against him with India choosing to not review the decision. The highlight of his bowling was how he deceived Sri Lanka skipper Dasun Shanaka with a delivery that spun so sharp that it beat Shanaka down the leg side and had him stumped. That performance could easily have been a five-wicket haul, but instead Kuldeep had just two wickets to his name, the only two he would pick in the entire T20I series.
It wasn’t the first time luck eluded him. The famous performance in the final Test of the 2018-19 Australia tour and the subsequent comments by Ravi Shastri on him being India’s No.1 overseas spinner are well known. The left-arm wrist-spinner barely got a look in in the longer formats after that.
2019 was terrible for Kuldeep Yadav. He lost his hold in his IPL side, with Kolkata Knight Riders dropping him halfway through the season. He played just five games in 2020 and none in 2021. The average in the IPL, which was 24.5 pre-2019, soared to 75.6 since 2019 in the two seasons he got to play.
He was carried on tours with the Indian side but barely got any games after 2020. A mainstay for three years in the Indian side, Kuldeep played just seven matches in 2020 and seven further, including the matches on the recent Sri Lanka tour, in 2021.
It was on the recent tour that Kuldeep had a real opportunity to regain his rhythm and confidence. He had leaked 68 and 84 in the two ODIs against England in Pune earlier this year, and it very likely would have been his final two limited-overs games for India for a while had this tour not happened.
He made an impactful return in Colombo, picking two for 48 in his nine overs, and appearing way more threatening than he ever did in recent times.
“Sometimes you get hit for runs, but other times you get wickets too. I have taken three-four wickets often, taken five-six wickets too. If people talk about that more, it’ll be nicer,” Kuldeep said after the game.
But, for that to happen, the narrative hasn’t changed by a mile. After all, this was a Sri Lankan side that had struggled to put in any performance of note in the last couple of years. And, it really was just glimpses of the Kuldeep of old that befuddled teams for a couple of years in limited-overs cricket.
Sustaining these performances, when the pressure is on him with the full-strength team back in the mix, will decide Kuldeep’s future. If he can get the mojo of old back, it will benefit India a lot. A rare breed of spinner, Kuldeep adds much variety to the Indian spin attack and on the sluggish wickets in the UAE, could be more than a handful if he can maintain his rhythm.
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