Left-arm wrist spin is a rare field of expertise, and a gifted Indian exponent of it practising this art is an alluring sight on the cricket field. The arrival of Kuldeep Yadav adds another exciting chapter to India’s rich heritage of spin bowling, one that reasserts the aesthetic appeal of wrist spin. Such considerations count for nothing in the ruthless world of the Indian Premier League if not backed up by consistent performances, so his brief phase of excellence so far with a new club – he has taken 13 wickets in six matches for Delhi Capitals – after a frustrating stint with Kolkata Knight Riders warms the heart indeed.
The highlight of his bowling so far has been the four-wicket spell against his previous team. He got hit for a few, but took the prized wicket of Shreyas Iyer with a beautiful follow-up delivery to one that had been hit for a six with a disdainful stroke. In his final over, he took three more to further cripple the Knight Riders’ run chase – Pat Cummins was trapped lbw with a quick delivery pitched full on a leg-stump line, Sunil Narine was caught at deep extra cover as he tried to hit out, and Umesh Yadav top-edged trying to slog hard. After the ball rocketed up off Umesh’s bat, Kuldeep ran a great length in pursuit of the ball, kept his eye on it, and dived forward at full stretch to complete the catch, a sign perhaps that he was a touch hungrier for success in this game, that he had a point to prove against his former employer.
Kuldeep said at the post-match briefing that he had worked on his ‘rhythm’ and was enjoying his bowling. He was varying his lengths well and the pace of the ball, too, to fox the batters. The team was backing him. That perhaps added to his confidence, too. There was also a discernible increase in the average pace of his deliveries to adjust to the demands of T20s.
But was all well with his bowling? Former India left-arm spinner Maninder Singh sees a major technical flaw in his bowling action that he feels needs to be rectified soon.
“If you see his front arm, that falls very quickly,” Maninder tells Sportstar.
“Bowlers’ front arm is the driver; when that arm falls so quickly, there’s not enough life in the ball. Whenever he’s going to get hit around, he’s going to lose confidence. He needs to work on that technical flaw.
“What he’s doing now is that he’s trying to bowl a little quicker through the air. But if the technical flaw gets fixed, he will not have to make that much of an effort as much as he’s making now. The good thing is – the way he’s bowling so far, whatever I’ve seen in the season, it looks like he’s worked hard. Once you’ve tasted the adulation and are playing at the top level, and then you’ve to play Ranji Trophy and first-class cricket – you don’t really enjoy those that much because there’s nothing compared to the adulation you get when you’re playing for the country. He’s worked hard, but I still feel if that technical flaw gets fixed, he’s got a long time to go,” Maninder explains.
Need for speed
Kuldeep’s personal coach Kapil Pandey says there are a number of small changes he has made to his bowling. Elaborating on what the bowler means when he says “rhythm achha aa raha hai (the rhythm is coming along well),” Pandey explains: “He’s referring to the run up. If the run up is good, the rest follows. When he started his career, his bowling was tailored to the demands of one-day cricket and Test cricket. In T20s, batters started to play him well and understood his bowling. So now he has increased the speed of his run up. And that has increased the pace of the ball. He’s also varying his pace: sometimes in the 80s, sometimes 90s, and sometimes 100 (kph). That’s causing the batters a few problems.
“Another change in his bowling is that he is trying to bowl fewer short balls. He does bowl the occasional short ball, but he’s learnt that it is better if they are minimised. Our effort is to bowl fuller (sic). He bowls the chinaman and the googly as he used to before. But the big difference is the speed. He didn’t get too many chances for the Knight Riders, and he was told he was bowling too slow.”
Former India left-arm spinner Maninder Singh sees a major technical flaw in his bowling action that he feels needs to be rectified soon. – AP
The classical leg-spin bowler that he is, increasing the pace of his deliveries and bowling flatter through the air may give the impression to some that he is trying to be the bowler he is not. In first-class cricket, on the other hand, there may be more freedom to flight the ball to cast intricate webs over long spells. But Maninder feels more pace is needed even in the longer formats of cricket.
“In Test cricket also, he’ll have to bowl a little quicker than what he was bowling, because of which he struggled. Because that life on the ball is very important, and when I say “fix the technical flaw,” he’ll not have to bowl quicker, he’ll automatically get those revolutions which are required to fox the batsman. But if he can’t fix the technical flaw, I feel he’ll have to bowl a little quicker than what he had been bowling,” Maninder says.
He illustrates his point: “Fixing the technical flaw is like wheel alignment, because if the weight is less on one side, you don’t enjoy the drive, and if the alignment is fixed, then the car runs very smoothly. So you enjoy it more. If there’s a problem with the wheel alignment, you have to adjust it with the steering wheel. But if the wheel alignment is fine, then, you just have to touch the steering wheel, and you can manage the car. Same goes with bowling. If the front arm gets fixed, then everything will come automatically. Even if he gets hit, he will still not fall short of confidence. But with his action, the technical flaw that he has, the day he starts getting hit, his confidence will come down, and then it will take some time for the confidence to return.”
Only those players with enormous reserves of mental strength excel despite technical flaws, says Maninder. For Kuldeep, bowling with this technical flaw amounts to bowling with extra pressure on his right shoulder. “Career kahin shorten na ho jaye (I’m hoping his career doesn’t get shortened),” he warns. “Kyunki aise hone mein injuries hone ke chances badh jate hain (Because it increases the chances of injury).”
Kuldeep has a lot going for him. According to Pandey, he has changed the “culture” in the Indian spin department in that his peers now impart more spin on their deliveries. Of course, he has a smart bowling brain, an appetite for hard work and success, and ambition. And at 27, he has age on his side.
Concludes Maninder: “Once he controls his front arm, he’ll become a champion again.”