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India will arrive in Australia this summer with generous hopes for their four-Test series despite their bowlers being bulldozed on their last two tours here. This time, it could be a left-arm mystery spinner who holds the key for India.
Kuldeep Yadav, at just 23 years old, is currently running amok in England, dominating the English batsmen who are clueless about the variety of deliveries which fizz out of his hand.
In his latest star turn in England yesterday, Kuldeep exposed England’s enduring weakness against wrist spin as he took an incredible haul of 6-25 on a road of a pitch at Nottingham.
In five white ball matches on that tour – three against England and two against Ireland – Kuldeep has grabbed the astonishing figures of 18 for 120. That’s no mere purple patch either as you can see from Kuldeep’s career record across all three international formats – 78 wickets at 16.
I have seen a lot of Kuldeep in all formats and, to me, he looks set to be world cricket’s next great spinner, a bowler capable of dominating in all three formats.
Many Australian cricket fans will not be familiar with him, despite the young spinner having already flummoxed Australia in all three formats. That’s because his appearances against Australia all have come overseas and during Australian cricket’s off-season, a combination which ensures that few Aussie followers pay attention.
On Test debut against Australia in Dharamsala last year, Kuldeep was India’s best bowler on day one, taking 4-68 as Australia were dismissed for a below-par total of 300. He produced sensational deliveries to dismiss Peter Handscomb and Glenn Maxwell – the first a leg break and the second a googly.
What’s most significant about that performance, in the context of the coming Test summer, is that Kuldeep excelled on a hard, fast pitch that was far more typically Australian than Indian in nature. This was no dustbowl, but rather a deck which offered good pace and carry for the quicks.
That single performance showed Kuldeep’s style of bowling has the potential to be effective in Australian conditions. What we already know is that Kuldeep’s main rival for a Test spot in Australia, off-spinner Ravi Ashwin, has an approach which does not work in Australia. Ashwin has toured Australia twice and, across six Tests, has the awful figures of 21 wickets at 55.
India’s selectors often get swayed by Ashwin’s all-round ability as he offers a lot with the bat. But purely on bowling Kuldeep is clearly the better option for the Tests in Australia.
Kuldeep is the most complete wrist spinner to grace international cricket since Shane Warne retired. He has every attribute of a champion wrist spinner – composure, confidence, accuracy, variety, deceiving flight, and the ability to rip his deliveries, rather than just roll them out like most spinners we see these days.
International cricket is now packed with spinners who get few revolutions on their deliveries. There are no spinners like Warne, Muttiah Muralitharan and Graeme Swann who put ferocious work on the ball, causing it to whir through the air like the blades of a helicopter.
Kuldeep isn’t quite in their category in terms of the revs he impacts on his deliveries, but he’s pretty much in a league of his own in the modern game. Kuldeep really gives his stock ball a rip, unlike other talented wrist spinners such as England’s Adil Rashid, Afghanistan’s Rashid Khan, Australia’s Adam Zampa and Pakistan’s Shadab Khan.
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Because this stock delivery is spun so hard, and turns sharply, it increases the potency of his biggest weapon – his array of googlies. Yes, that’s right, Kuldeep has not just one googly but a clutch of them.
He possesses the standard wrong ‘un, the one which is released from the back of the hand. Kuldeep also has another which he bowls with just one finger on top of the ball, instead of the standard two, which allows him to impart googly-style turn without having to turn his wrist around as far.
The most perplexing one, however, is the googly he somehow delivers from the side of his hand. The clue for a hawk-eyed batsman facing wrist spin is that the leg break will come from the side of the hand and the googly from the back of the hand.
What does the batsman do, then, when they face a bowler who can deliver both a leg break and a googly from the side of the hand? How can they possibly pick the direction of the spin before the ball pitches? Kuldeep bowls many of his deliveries cross-seam to stop the batsman from judging the spin direction by reading the seam position through the air.
This leaves batsmen to either judge the spin off the pitch – a heinously-difficult act when the ball is pitched up – or to get to the pitch of the ball and smother the turn. The English batsmen have been flummoxed by this rare proposition.
So too could Australia’s batsmen be if the Indian selectors are brave enough to select Kuldeep ahead of Ashwin for this summer’s Test series.