The ball leaves the hand, draws Glenn Maxwell forward, and before he could realise anything, it turns the other way to leave him flummoxed. The dismissal was Kuldeep Yadav’s Test debut in a nutshell - more of a spin masterclass than relying on his mystery factor.
Yesterday, while scrambling through BCCI Video archive, I landed on the fourth Test section of Australia’s eventful tour of India in early 2017, which as history will have it, was the last Test Anil Kumble helmed India in as a coach. It was the first Test for the impressive Kuldeep Yadav as well. It was a throwback to the simpler times in Indian cricket when a Virat Kohli, who was ruled out of the Test with a hand injury, was a promising tactician as he was supposed to turn out to be and stand-in skipper Ajinkya Rahane for the Test was still the man for India’s overseas ambitions.
When I replayed the video of all four wickets that Uttar Pradesh’s slow left-arm wrist-spinner had taken that day, it struck me hard how beautifully he held the seam position, with scramble seam troubling the batsmen more than the complicated release. For Peter Handscomb, Kuldeep bowled a wider delivery, with the drift taking it further as the batsman was lured by the over-pitch delivery. Could it have been any other way? Surely the Victorian learnt it the hardest way possible when the ball turned back after pitching to castle him on the go. Maxwell, Pat Cummins and Matthew Wade all suffered the variants and were left for answers which were genuinely not that easy to find.
Although many would remember the Test as Ravindra Jadeja finally stepping out of the shadow of Ravichandran Ashwin to emerge as the No.1 Test bowler, for Kuldeep, it was his own moment of joy, for what he did on the first day. Not only was it the show of a rookie upsetting the established order, but it was also the promise of a bright future - everyone and their pet dog were excited, Anil Kumble, a mighty leggie that he was, talked about what it meant to see a wrist-spinner emerging from the country and then in subsequent months, Ravi Shastri labelled him as the “Number one spinner in overseas Test for India”. I am not sure if it is funny or tragic but after Shastri gave that interview, Kuldeep has played a total of zero Tests for India. Yes, Ladies and Gentlemen, ZERO.
While that Dharamsala Test was the last time Kumble managed India in, with Shastri - a man who believes in “Even in Test cricket, it is going to be the age of wrist spin, especially in overseas Test cricket. Going ahead, if we have to play one spinner, he is the one we will pick. There is a time for everyone (referring to Ashwin's poor fitness record in 2018). But now Kuldeep is our frontline number one overseas spinner” - taking over the duties after the Champions Trophy in England, it was rather shambolic the way Kuldeep Yadav’s career has panned out - a tragic case of mismanagement that would even put Rishabh Pant’s case to shame.
It is a shame because Kuldeep was always meant for bigger and grander things and his career was not going to be punctuated the way it has now. Surely, he squandered the opportunities with a terrible 2019 IPL and subsequent failures in the World Cup, but in Tests, from the limited sample size we have, it was never going to be a downhill ride. Be it his showing against Sri Lanka in 2017 or that five-wicket haul against West Indies in Rajkot, he had fleeting brilliance that could have easily been channelled for better outputs. Then what has gone wrong actually?
The cross-format selection in India has been a regular thing of this team management and even though it hardly made any sense, they have certainly taken refugees in the process. Be it the classic case of Mohammed Siraj, whose excellent red-ball skill was used in white-ball cricket for some periodic scathing or the exclusion of Dinesh Karthik from the T20I set-up because he was a bad ODI player last year, reeks of a problem that the team management tended to ignore more often than not. Doesn’t Kuldeep, who has 24 wickets from six matches with an average less than 25, have all the reasons to feel aggrieved about? Does the management have any defense for why the Uttar Pradesh spinner has not played any of the nine Tests that the team have played since his last appearance in Sydney? These are some complex questions that need a detailed explanation.
It is only fair that Ravindra Jadeja, who has made himself invaluable in the Test set-up with his useful contribution with the bat, that has already seen him overcoming MS Dhoni’s Test batting average, is a starter, but it is beyond reasoning that why Ravichandran Ashwin, despite his regular under-performance on the away soil, has still been persisted with. Couldn’t Kuldeep have been given a chance in the West Indies tour or at least in the New Zealand tour, where his novelty factor would have been of great use.
It is genuinely sad that we’re talking of him in could-have-been, would-have-been and that is exactly where the lack of foresight by the current management kicks in. The quarantine time is the ideal time for Virat Kohli and Ravi Shastri to have a self-introspection as they set their sights on the ICC Test Championship Trophy. After all, Kuldeep Yadav is too good a talent to be left in the wilderness.
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