England v India, 1st ODI, Trent Bridge July 12, 2018

Kuldeep Yadav's left-arm illegibles set England a summer-long challenge

The inability of England's batsmen to read the variations of India's wristspinner could send shockwaves through the summer

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Harmison: Kohli's captaincy sustained pressure for Kuldeep

England, what's happening?

Is solving Kuldeep Yadav a Mensa-like challenge? Surely these batsmen have enough cricketing IQ to work out what he's bowling? He has two variations: the legbreak and the googly. Yes, his unorthodox action is the only difference between the challenge that he poses, compared to the one that his partner Yuzvendra Chahal, the legspinner, presents. No?

No, not really, at least to judge by the way England have failed to combat Kuldeep in the past two weeks. Right now, England are clearly still at the stage of hunting desperately for clues. If you can get a five-for and six-for in your first T20 and ODI in England, as Kuldeep has just done, clearly there is a problem. And that problem is a simple one: the batsmen cannot read his hand.

In the guise of a limited-overs bowler, Kuldeep's strengths actually apply to long-form cricket. Flight, deception, slow pace and teasing lengths - spinners resort to these skills to stitch together a path that leads eventually to the fall of the batsman. Kuldeep can deploy them in all formats.

England thought they had figured him out at Cardiff, playing him from deep in the crease in the series-levelling second T20. There, Kuldeep left himself exposed by shortening his length, thus allowing more space and time for Alex Hales and Jonny Bairstow to pick him from the pitch. Kuldeep was wicketless and went for runs, and for the next T20, in Bristol, he was dropped - though principally because of the grassy nature of the pitch.

That would have hurt, but Kuldeep learned his lesson quickly. Today he pitched it up once more. Jason Roy went for the aggressive option straight away as he took on the legbreak from outside off and attempted a reverse sweep, partially as a response to slip having moved to leg-slip after a conventional sweep the ball before. The ball went straight into the hands of the cover fielder. If England thought attacking the strike bowler was a good idea, they had started off on a bum note.

In the Old Trafford T20, Joe Root had stretched himself forward, but fell short and was beaten by the turn and bounce, and stumped. It had been Root's first ball and it was a premeditated move. Today Root premeditated once again. He decided to stay back in his crease, having seen Bairstow succeed in that manner in Cardiff. But he also decided to stay back thinking Kuldeep would bowl the googly. Instead it was a legbreak pitched outside off. Root failed to move and was caught plumb. Root could have easily covered the line of the stumps had he known to do so, but in waiting, he was surprised and beaten by the turn that Kuldeep extracted from the pitch.

Bairstow once again opted to play Kuldeep from the crease as he had done in Cardiff. All good if the length was short, but that was not the case. Kuldeep got enough overspin on the ball to land it fuller. Bairstow was tempted to lunge forward, but he did so belatedly. Importantly, he seemed to have no idea that the delivery had come from the back of Kuldeep's hand. Kuldeep would end up bowling half a dozen googlies - the same as Chahal - and one of them hit Bairstow on his back thigh. MS Dhoni had been reluctant to review, but Kuldeep charged to Kohli, who obliged. Kuldeep was right.

It is not just with his wrist that Kuldeep has left England's batsmen all at sea. He has also confused them with varying pace. The delivery that got Roy was 51 mph. The one that caught Root plumb was 49.1 mph. And Bairstow was defeated by a 47.2 mph wrong 'un.

There is a perception that, the more England watch Kuldeep, the better they will start to read him. That makes sense. But when an opponent starts to take a mental hold over batsmen, it can become difficult to express yourself fluently.

By the time Kuldeep came back for his third spell, in the final 10-over segment, Ben Stokes had played 83 deliveries. The first ball of Kuldeep's first spell, Stokes was beaten by a simple legbreak. Two balls later, Kuldeep pitched one on the middle stump. Stokes lined up to play it on the back foot, but the ball ripped past the edge on a fourth-stump line.

The fact that a left-arm unorthodox wristspinner is rarity in any cricket makes Kuldeep an immediate danger. His attacking mindset strengthens that proposition while allowing his captains to use him as a gun bowler. Kohli used Kuldeep across three spells, each of which came at a time when India needed to impose themselves. In the first he claimed three wickets in ten deliveries. By the time he finished his ten overs, he had not been hit for a single boundary.

If he could destroy England on the first afternoon of an ODI on a dry pitch, what could he be capable of doing on a third, fourth, fifth afternoon on a pitch like these in Indian conditions? Clearly it is no longer a debate as to whether Kuldeep should play in the five-match Test series against England. It is a no-brainer.

But that is getting ahead of ourselves. For the moment Kuldeep remains a riddle England cannot solve across 20 or 50 overs, let alone five days.

Nagraj Gollapudi is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo

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