Kuldeep rediscovers his potency

Kuldeep rediscovers his potency

ROAR IS BACK: Kuldeep Yadav's (left) stunning dismissal of Pakistan's Babar Azam has had many pundits calling it as one of the balls of the tournament. AP/ PTI

Seldom does M S Dhoni get animated in his celebrations. His reaction is almost muted at the fall every opposition wicket. A quiet walk towards the bowler and brisk dissection of the delivery.

There are, however, some occasions when the stumper can’t rein in on his excitement. Kuldeep Yadav’s delivery that cleaned up Pakistan’s Babar Azam on Sunday elicited that rare response from the former India captain. It’s the kind of delivery that a spinner dreams of producing every time he comes on to bowl – loopy, drifting and turning to leave the batsman high and dry in his stance.

Azam had settled well after an early success for India and had even slogged Yuzvendra Chahal for a big six the previous over. He seemed ready for the double wrist-spin challenge. In the next over, Kuldeep bamboozled the right-hander with a delivery that dipped and forced him to play the wrong line before turning and crashing into the stumps through the gate.

The left-arm wrist spinner jumped in joy and let out a loud scream. It must have helped him release a lot of pent-up frustration. Less than two months ago, Kuldeep was at his vulnerable worst after enduring a forgettable Indian Premier League with the Kolkata Knight Riders. In fact, he had been reduced to tears as Royal Challengers Bangalore’s Moeen Ali took him to cleaners at the Eden Gardens.

It was perhaps one of the lowest points in his career, and there were concerns about his form coming into the World Cup. Slowly but steadily, the Uttar Pradesh bowler has managed to quell those apprehensions. Against South Africa (1/46) and Australia (0/55) the 24-year-old was good without being remarkable, but he was back to doing what he does best in the Pakistan game.

After the shellacking in the IPL, Kuldeep also needed the backing of the team management. He thrives on confidence and the team’s think tank ensured he had plenty of it.

“Kuldeep is someone who needs a lot of confidence before going into his spell,” said vice-captain Rohit Sharma. “So, all -- as a team, we've been talking about him, how big a match winner he's been for us in the last year or so. He's probably, what, 48 games and almost 90 wickets. (90 in 47 games) That is almost two wickets per game. That's a hell of a record for a spinner, and most of the wickets have come out of the sub-continent for him.

“He's our match-winning bowler in that middle over phase, and today also you saw how important those crucial wickets were. Of course, he didn't start the tournament the way he would like to, but for us as a group around him, our job is to just make sure that he gets that confidence, he gets that backing from the team,” Rohit offered.

It’s not like Kuldeep ran through Pakistan innings, he had figures of 2/32 from nine overs. Nothing extraordinary but in the context of the match, their import being far more significant than the numbers will have you believe. Pakistan weren’t going at a breakneck speed chasing India’s 336/5.

After losing opener Imam-ul-Haq early in the piece, they tried to consolidate rather than cruise through. While the asking rate kept climbing, it was important for India to take wickets with the rain threat around the corner. Any revision of the target under DLS method had the potential to put Pakistan back in the game. Keeping wickets in hand appeared to be Pakistan’s game-plan but Kuldeep put a spanner in their work with two wickets in two successive overs. After leaving Azam clueless with a beauty, he had another set batsman Fakhar Zaman caught at short fine leg to decisively tilt the game in India’s favour.

“It felt really good,” said Kuldeep about the manner in which he dismissed Azam. “It’s always a high intensity game, India-Pakistan. The fans have a lot of expectations and it is always a big match, especially if it is in the World Cup. It is my first World Cup match against Pakistan, so the expectations were a lot from friends and family. The ball I bowled was a very good ball, it is the kind of dream ball that you dream of. It was an important wicket, the team needed a wicket at that stage because they were in the middle of a good partnership. So that wicket was very important for me.”

The match against RCB was his last for this IPL after which he went back home to work with his coach in Kanpur, fixing his basics. The spring is back in his steps and his bowling has regained that missing zing. The tears have been wiped off and the smile is back.   

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