The Australian influence in Kuldeep’s career
Right from the time Kuldeep Yadav switched from pace bowling to wristspin as a young boy, he has idolised Shane Warne. Every time he feels something is wrong with his bowling, he revisits footage of Warne bowling in the 2005 Ashes. Because there were so few left-arm wristspinners when he started, Kuldeep would attempt to study Warne’s action closely.
As Kuldeep climbed the rungs of professional cricket, he found fellow left-arm wristspinner Brad Hogg, a Kolkata Knight Riders team-mate who became a friend and guide. In fact Hogg, now 46, has asked Kuldeep, only 22, to get in touch on Skype if he wants to discuss something.
Warne recently posted a couple of tweets that’s certain to have thrilled Kuldeep. He mentioned how enjoyable it was to watch Kuldeep “cause confusion, even against Oz [Australia]”, and also that Kuldeep could challenge Yasir Shah as the best legspinner in the world if he remained patient.
“They are very important to me,” Kuldeep said of Warne and Hogg’s role in his development. “Warne is my idol and I have always followed him from childhood. If I become 50% of what he is, my life is successful. I keep talking to him. I’ve been with Brad Hogg for two years at KKR. Even now I keep talking to him.
“[It is] very important to keep talking to such senior players. They’re legends in their field. If you gain even some experience from them, then your career will benefit.”
Apart from learning the mental side of the job, Kuldeep also picked up a few technical tips from the Australian spinners. “Obviously, from Warne, his wrist work, his flight and drift to deceive whichever batsmen … it is very important,” he said. “If I become a little successful in doing that, it’s great for me. From Hogg, because I’m a chinaman [bowler] and he is one too, you can learn a lot. He has the flipper or wrong’un. I think he’s 46 now, so a 23-year-old long career. So it feels good to learn a lot from that kind of experience. This is just the start of my career, the small things I can pick up will be very useful.”
Among contemporaries, Kuldeep has forged a booming partnership with legspinner Yuzvendra Chahal. They are two of India’s most recent success stories, and together they accounted for 13 wickets in the ODI series against Australia. Kuldeep and Chahal were also responsible for throwing Australia off course in the first T20I in Ranchi, as India restricted them to 118. Having known each other for five years, Kuldeep and Chahal are invariably always on the same page.
“Actually, we have quite a good partnership,” Kuldeep said. “Chahal and I have played together. It’s very easy to understand what his plans are, what my plans are. It’s easy on the ground, we talk about how the wicket is and how it behaves. Even in the games, we bowl in partnerships, you can see its impact.”
So, what kind of conversation does the pair have? “It depends on the wickets. I talk a lot about wickets [the surface],” Kuldeep said. “Even with Bhuvi [Bhuvneshwar Kumar] bhai. I ask Chahal also what is happening on the wicket – If the wicket is turning, or if it’s skidding through while bowling. These discussions keep happening. We keep thinking about batsmen, how they are playing and what their plans may be. These discussions are useful for me and the team.”
With wristspinners being the flavour of the season, Kuldeep was asked if he and Chahal had taken over from R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja as the team’s lead spinners. “I don’t think so much [about replacing Ashwin and Jadeja],” he said. “Ash bhai and Jaddu bhai have done very well for India in Tests and ODIs. They’ve been doing so. We are very young and have plenty of cricket to play.”
While still young – Kuldeep has played only one Test, 11 ODIs and three T20Is – his early success has caught attention. Even Virat Kohli reckoned that Kuldeep was difficult to pick. Kuldeep was pragmatic about how teams might read his bowling better over the years, but said that as long as his fundamentals were sound he would always be among the wickets.
“Look, for me, it doesn’t matter if someone is trying to look at you and pick you,” he said. “If you bowl in the good areas and your variations are good, you can bowl in a spot. And if you can beat someone in the air, you can see as many videos as you want. I am no mystery bowler that I’m doing tricks with the hand. Obviously, it becomes easy after two-three years. Then they’ll pick you after playing you a while.
“As long as your basics are fine, your alignment and accuracy is good, it is easier [to take wickets]. In T20s, you can always take wickets. If you keep bowling in good areas, the batsmen are obviously trying to hit you. So, it is easy to pick up wickets. But at the same time, your basics need to be good and you should not worry about what the batsmen are planning.”