England, it seems, haven't recovered from Kuldeep Yadav's career-best T20I haul in Manchester.
There is talk that the hosts will deploy ‘Merlyn’ in practice before the second T20I at Cardiff. It is a spin-bowling machine that can replicate any bowler-type, since finding a ‘chinaman’ wrist spinner in Wales at short notice isn’t the easiest possibility. That machine was last used when the English batsmen wanted to prepare for Shane Warne ahead of the 2005 Ashes.
It had worked then, and England will be hoping it works just this one more time.
For the first five overs of the English innings at Manchester on Tuesday, it was quite apparent that this Indian team had met a stern challenge. In the past twelve months or so, they had registered easy wins over West Indies, Sri Lanka, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, yet this batting line-up – spearheaded by Jos Buttler’s brilliance – was a different proposition entirely.
From 50-1 at one stage, India pulled it back to 77-1 with only 27 runs coming off the next five overs. Variation of pace was a key factor, with Hardik Pandya bowling a fine first spell. But more was needed, a bit of magic if you will. Enter Kuldeep.
“When I started, I thought if I bowled a bit slower, maybe there would be chances and batting would be easy only if there’s feet movement. I kept the pace down and gave more flight in the second over, and maintained my length. The plan was to stretch the batsmen and not give them any pace,” explained Kuldeep after his man-of-the-match winning performance.
It worked quite well. On the first ball of the 14th over, Eoin Morgan went for the wrist spinner’s arc but couldn’t get the distance. The Indian-heavy crowd danced as Virat Kohli completed an easy catch at the boundary, and little did they know that they were about to witness one of the most sensational spells in T20I history.
Two balls later, Jonny Bairstow was stumped. A googly first up and he had no clue how to play. Next ball, another googly, and Joe Root lost his balance, giving MS Dhoni enough time to break the stumps after a brief fumble. India-England matches have often taken the ‘Lagaan’ movie reference, and to borrow from there, this was a proper bamboozlement.
“Bairstow and Root have never played me, so it was difficult for them to pick the googly straight up. Obviously they are quality batsmen, but those three wickets changed the momentum,” said Yadav gleefully afterwards.
For him, spin bowling is simple. Ever since he was inducted in the limited-overs’ formats, the brief has been consistent – pick up as many wickets as possible. It is the singular reason why India turned towards wrist spin after their failure to win the 2017 Champions Trophy. Of the two, Yadav was inducted into the ODI side ahead of Yuzvendra Chahal, during the ensuing West Indies’ tour. There, he played every game, with R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja playing their last as yet.
Since then, it has been a heady rise. Yadav has helped India win series after series, so much so that the Men in Blue are unbeaten in ODI bilateral cricket since June 2017. It is a similar record in the T20I arena as well. In this interim he has picked 39 wickets in 20 ODIs as well as 24 wickets in 11 T20Is. What stands out is his economy in ODI cricket – 20.08 – and his average in T20s – a wicket every 11.79 balls. In modern-day limited-overs’ cricket, with two new balls and fielding restrictions weighing down bowlers in the middle overs, this is a prodigious return whichever way you look at it.
The secret, of course, is adherence to formula. Yadav simply cannot bowl to restrict runs. If he has the ball in hand, he will be gunning for wickets.
“My childhood coach, Kapil Pandey, taught me how to get hit and still be patient. While I used to bowl, he stood there and watched how many sixes could be hit off me. It was helpful because then I wouldn’t feel pressure in a match situation. That is something I learnt very early on, and today I am not scared of getting hit,” said Yadav, after his triumphant maiden outing on English soil.
It is almost a reminder of the manner Ramakant Achrekar trained Sachin Tendulkar once upon a time, imbibing patience and discipline in his ward. Remember his first outing in England back in 1990? World cricket got a real taste of the champion batsman he was going to be. And now, 28 years later, it could be a similar story arc for Kuldeep, a prodigious wrist-spinner who has learnt from Anil Kumble and Warne, and is guided by none other than Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni.
There is another tangent here. England tried hard to stop Tendulkar every time he played against them, including bowling a negative line. More often than not, it didn’t work. Can the same be said about Kuldeep’s exploits in Manchester? Can he maintain this supremacy over English batsmen even as the series, and indeed the tour, progresses, for there is already talk of him playing the first Test on August 1?
Skipper Morgan asserted that they ‘can play him better’. Buttler has spoken about the virtues of patience, and watching the ball, almost as if reading from a script. While carrying such confidence is obvious, modern-day international schedules do not allow for such quick adaptation. There is a two-day gap between the first two matches, and only a one-day gap between the last two, in this short series. The three-match ODI series is scheduled in the same manner.
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