It was the worst night of Kuldeep Yadav’s career.
His teammates gathered for a huddle during the 2nd strategic timeout.
However, Kuldeep Yadav was down on his knees, and still on the boundary. As he stared at the ground with his neck craned downwards, beads of sweat fell onto the grass below him.
Or were they tears?
As his head rose up, his hands rushed to cover his face with a towel.
And they stayed there for an eternity.
Moeen Ali had just carted him for 26 runs in the space of 5 balls. The 6th ball of that painful over, and the final ball of his spell saw the Englishman hole out to long off, but the damage was done.
Have batsmen figured me out? Will my bad form ever end? Or am I just not good enough?
After 4 wickets across 9 games at an average of 71.5 and an economy rate of 8.66, Kuldeep was a broken man riddled with self-doubt.
That was the last night of his IPL campaign.
India’s best white ball spinner was dropped for the rest of the season.
No, that is not the helpline to contact if you are yet to receive you World Cup tickets
Those were the combined bowling figures of Ashwin and Jadeja during India’s infamous loss to Pakistan in the Champions Trophy Final.
The 180-run pounding was a wake-up call for India.
The spin twins, who ran through touring sides in white clothing at home were out of their element in a format that was rendering their skills obsolete.
India’s New Spin Twins
With paltry returns in the IPL and a forgettable comeback in the warm-up against New Zealand, it can be tempting to overlook the fact that Kuldeep and Chahal have been game-changers for India.
Since the Champions Trophy, they have spun a web around nearly every opposition they have encountered. The wrist spinners took 33 combined wickets during India’s tour to South Africa, which came at a stunning average of 16, a strike rate below 20, and an economy rate of 4.83.
Those stupendous returns made the world sit up and take notice. It now means that Ashwin’s white ball career is practically over and that Jadeja has slipped behind India’s new spin twins in the bowling queue.
Make no mistake; India is no longer just a ‘batting team.’
In Bumrah and Bhuvenshwar Kumar, they have two fast bowlers that can either make early inroads or close out an innings.
The wrist spinners allow them to take wickets in the middle overs—something Ashwin and Jadeja haven’t done since the rules were changed to mandate the use of two new balls.
Add a supporting cast of Pandya, Kedar Jadhav, and Vijay Shankar to the mix and India is arguably the best bowling side going into the World Cup.
However, that could all change if the skeptics are right and Kuldeep has lost his sting.
Can Kuldeep Turn Things Around?
In defense of the youngster’s less than flattering IPL numbers, he did play most of his games on the spinners’ graveyard that is Eden Gardens.
“I really don’t know why I was failing to get wickets despite bowling well,” Kuldeep wondered while speaking to reporters prior to his departure for the World Cup.
“The Eden Gardens pitch was also very good for batting. The ball wasn’t turning much there. If you gave a little bit of flight, it was easy for the batsman to take the ball into his radar and smash it out of the park.”
The freedom to flight the ball and slow up his pace when batsmen are coming at him is the cornerstone of Kuldeep’s success. While this tactic can backfire in T20s, the length of an ODI innings means that batsmen cannot afford to take as many risks against him.
“It is a different format. A 50-over game is a lot different to a T20. The conditions are a lot different too. The wickets there will be a lot faster, the ball will spin too when the temperature will be high, and we will get dry pitches. Spinners will get a huge advantage and that remains my focus.”
It is also quite possible that a change in team environment would do Kuldeep a world of good. He has often spoken of the empowering culture promoted by Kohli and India’s seniors.
“He [Virat Kohli] has really backed Chahal and me a lot. He always keeps telling us to get wickets… Not just him but the entire team management and all the senior players, including Mahi bhai (MS Dhoni) and Rohit bhai, back us a lot.”
If Not Kuldeep, then who?
While Jadeja has been selected as a ‘3D’ option, his bowling performances at the Champions Trophy inspire little confidence. An unenviable record against left-handers could make him easy prey for teams such as England, Australia, and New Zealand.
Mohammad Shami has emerged as a reliable 3rd seamer, who may even displace Bhuvneshwar Kumar. However, he may struggle on the batting paradises of England.
Cric Viz data shows that the idea of “English Conditions” is outdated. Since the 2015 World Cup, bowlers have only found an average of 0.71° of swing in England. That’s lower than the global average of 0.74°.
It gets worse for those who rely on seam movement. The 2019 English summer has seen 0.46° of seam movement, down from 0.62° in 2015.
We’re nearly there!
In a week’s time, India will open their World Cup campaign against South Africa. A match-up against his favorite opposition will be the perfect opportunity for Kuldeep to find some form.
It is crazy to think that the hopes of a nation rest so heavily on the shoulders of a baby-faced 24-year-old.
Yet, India needs Kuldeep to rediscover the match-winning form that has bamboozled some of the world’s best batsmen.
As harsh as it may sound, the inconsolable boy on the boundary will not win them anything.