Kuldeep Yadav was enjoying his dream run from 2017 to 2019 in international cricket, troubling the best batting units around the world but it was hampered due to a dip in form and a knee injury. However, he seems to be regaining his peak in the IPL 2022 with four wickets from the first two matches.
There have been few stories of a player starting as a fast bowler and gradually becoming one of the top spinners around the world. Kuldeep Yadav produced one of the rare stories as he switched to left-arm chinaman after starting as a fast bowler in his initial playing days. Born in Uttar Pradesh, Kuldeep joined a cricket academy in Kanpur and he was fascinated by pace bowling initially. However, his coach Kapil Pandey asked him to switch his bowling style to a rare breed left-arm chinaman.
Kuldeep’s switch to spin bowling turned out to be very beneficial as he garnered a lot of attention with his performance in Under-19 levels. He played his first India U-19 game in April 2012 but the 2014 Under-19 World Cup provided a big breakthrough for him. He scalped 14 wickets in the competition and was the joint second-highest wicket-taker. Also, he became the first Indian bowler to take a hatt-trick in the tournament's history.
His performance caught the attention of selectors in a short span and 2017 turned out to be a dream year for him as he made his debut in all the formats for India. He had a successful span of the first couple of years in international cricket beating the batters with his ability to spin the ball both ways. He used to deceive the batters in the air and even the best of them were unable to read his wrong’un from the hand.
Kuldeep enjoyed a successful stint from 2017 to 2019, especially while bowling with Yuzvendra Chahal. It seemed like he couldn't do any wrong and feared no one. He also bowled a ‘ball of the century’ contender to Babar Azam in the 2019 ICC World Cup during his peak. The ball drifted away from the batter in the air but it turned to come inside after hitting the ground. In the period of two years from 2017 to 2019, Kuldeep picked 37 wickets from just 19 T20Is and with an economy of 6.97. His ODI stats in this period also proves that he was in sublime form taking 99 wickets from 56 matches with an economy of 4.98. But, every cricketer goes through a phase in his career where nothing seems to work and he tries to regain his form going through pain and distress and that period started for him in 2020.
Kuldeep became familiar with the environment in IPL much earlier. He was included in the Mumbai Indians set up for the 2012 season of IPL but was not able to make it into the playing XI in spite of making headlines for deceiving Sachin Tendulkar with a googly in the nets. His performance in the U-19 World Cup impressed the Kolkata Knight Riders scout and he was picked by them in the 2014 auction. The left-arm wrist-spinner had to wait till 2016 to make his debut in the IPL but was impressive in his first season with six wickets from three matches. He was not the first choice of the team for KKR in the first season as Brad Hogg was also a part of the team. However, he picked 12 wickets in 2017, and 17 in 2018 and impressed everyone. He also got a call-up for the national team in 2017. In the period 2017 to 2019, he enjoyed a successful stint but his fortunes just changed after that horribly.
In IPL 2019, he was able to pick only four wickets from nine matches. The problem that occurred with him was the lack of variation in pace required while bowling in the modern era. He still bowled at a slow pace to add more spin to the ball but batters used to get more time to read it. Also, he wasn’t able to afford anything short at that pace as the batter had enough time to go on backfoot and set himself for a big hit. He was able to pick only a single wicket from five matches in 2020 and was unlucky in 2021 as he missed the season due to a knee injury. Also, for the national team, he played only five T20Is taking four wickets in the last couple of years, and has just 10 wickets from 10 ODIs.
He seemed to be out of contention for selection in the national team or even IPL teams. However, his career has taken a sudden turn as he was included in the Indian squad for a recent limited-overs series. He was bought in the auction by Delhi Capitals for Rs 2 Crore and he has proved his selection worth so far by taking four wickets in two matches. The sense of security of having a place in the squad seems to be working for him. Also, he has added pace to his bowling which is an important element necessary for modern spinners. With a slight increase in speed, it is not getting easy for batters to read his variations.
In his first match of IPL 2022, Kuldeep picked three wickets which included two crucial scalps of Rohit Sharma and Kieron Pollard. Also, he was not allowing the batters to play big shots keeping the line in the stumps bowling at a good length with his improved pace. Also, against Gujarat Titans, he deceived Vijay Shankar with his spin.
India needs a wicket-taking option in the middle overs and Kuldeep can chart a comeback to the national team. He spins the ball both ways, has variations, and has also added some pace to his bowling. It has been an adventurous journey so far as the bowler who was once on the brink of being way past his peak has opened up a possibility of regaining that rhythm and making a comeback to the national team.