Kuldeep Yadav revels in being one of a kind
That Kuldeep Yadav came in to the Under-19 World Cup with a reputation was not lost on the man himself. Left-arm chinaman bowlers are rare in world cricket. Think of the last chinaman bowler from India, and you end up gazing at the ceiling. Throw the question to someone else, and all you get is a blank stare. Yadav, in all probability, is the only bowler of his kind in the tournament. His unorthodoxy brings a refreshing variation in India's bowling attack, which already has two offspinners. As Scotland discovered on Monday, Yadav was the rude shock to the system. He went on to take the tournament's first hat-trick - he became the first Indian to achieve the feat - and in the process sent Scotland crashing to 88.
In four games since landing in the UAE, Yadav has picked up a wicket in all but one of them. He took 3 for 25 in the first warm-up against Sri Lanka and then 2 for 38 in the second against South Africa. He failed to pick up a wicket in ten overs against Pakistan and looked well below his potential. Against Scotland, he knew he had to maintain his reputation for being captain Vijay Zol's go-to bowler.
"As Kuldeep, mere ko wicket nikaalna hai (As Kuldeep, I knew I had to take wickets)," Yadav said. "Obviously, there was pressure because everyone was expecting a lot out of me."
Against Pakistan, Yadav was introduced as late as the 19th over, but he says he was brought in as a defensive option, hoping to contain Pakistan's growing opening stand. He ended up bowling flatter and quicker and hence wasn't effective enough. Against Scotland, he was introduced earlier, in the 11th and importantly, looked to attack the batsmen by tossing it up more.
"Against Pakistan, they had a partnership and the idea was to contain the flow of runs," Kuldeep said. "Today I came after 10 overs, so the plan was different."
The plan worked. Andrew Umeed used his feet against him to clear the infield but he continued flighting it. The left-hander Nick Farrar had only faced three balls in his innings before he looked to slog a flighted delivery. He ended up top-edging it to square leg where Deepak Hooda took an easy catch. He then bowled round the wicket to the right-handers, trapping a clueless Kyle Stirling lbw, padding up to one that straightened. His hat-trick ball was worth watching over and over again just for the way he outfoxed the batsman. It was a combination of flight and sharp turn from outside off stump that snuck through the big gap between Alex Baum's pad and bat and hit the stumps. Coaches would do well to show replays of it to their wards.
It was Yadav's first ever hat-trick in any form of cricket. He said the pitch was slow and low and suited his bowling and even compared it to the Wankhede pitch in Mumbai.
Yadav hails from a middle-class family in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, another example of talent sprouting from smaller cities. His father, who runs a brickfield business, got him admitted in a cricket academy because he wanted him to get fit. Yadav initially began as a fast bowler, but changed to spin on the advice of his coach Kapil Pandey. Destiny had it that the first slower ball he bowled was a chinaman and Pandey persuaded him to keep at it. Yadav had brought something different to the table and the talent had to be harnessed.
Yadav admitted that it took him time to embrace his own orthodoxy, for being a chinaman bowler requires patience, plenty of practice and the willingness to concede a few runs. Such bowlers may not always get their lengths right and risk being spanked for boundaries if they bowl too short, as was evident with Yadav's earlier showing in the tournament.
He made his U-19 debut for India as a 17-year-old in the quadrangular tournament in Townsville, Queensland, but failed to make the cut for the 2012 World Cup shortly after. He made his comeback in the same country a year later and since then has been India's most consistent bowler, picking up 34 wickets in 18 games before this World Cup.
Yadav was fortunate to meet and seek advice his two cricketing heroes, Sachin Tendulkar and Shane Warne, on separate occasions. He was introduced to Warne by Dav Whatmore while training at the NCA in Bangalore, where the Australian told him to keep working on his variations. The Tendulkar incident is something he could never tire of recalling. When he was part of the Mumbai Indians squad a couple of years ago, he bowled to Tendulkar at the nets. He then slipped in his surprise delivery, the wrong 'un, and it managed to bamboozle Tendulkar.
Yadav says that analyzing the psychology of the batsman helps him plan his variations. "I judge a batsman by how he plays me in the first few balls and then plan accordingly," Yadav told Mint before the World Cup. "If the batsman is struggling to pick me, I try and set him up carefully before sneaking in a variation. If he's set, I keep bowling to my field and control the game."
The more recent practitioners of the craft include the Australians Brad Hogg, Michel Bevan and Simon Katich. For now, Yadav remains the unknown entity in whichever team he plays for.
Standing out from the pack it not a bad thing after all.
Kanishkaa Balachandran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo