Kuldeep unfazed under pressure in match-turning spell
Sunrisers Hyderabad's Mustafizur Rahman came on to bowl in the 11th over on Sunday afternoon at Eden Gardens in Kolkata. Delhi Daredevils' Amit Mishra has often started bowling after the 10th over. They are impact bowlers. That they can be introduced so late is because of their captains' show of confidence in them. On the day that Kolkata Knight Riders could have been knocked out, Gautam Gambhir introduced left-arm wristspinner Kuldeep Yadav in the 10th over. This was Kuldeep's first IPL game in more than a month. Prior to the IPL, he helped Uttar Pradesh win the domestic T20 title in January.
Clearly Kuldeep was that ace that Knight Riders were going to display at the right moment, a power in a game that you use just when you need to maximise its impact. On Sunday, that time had come to call for Kuldeep. Knight Riders were fighting for survival. They were on home turf, and were up against a side that relied on left-hand batsmen to win them games. In the larger scheme of things, Knight Riders got the timing spot on.
Once in the game, they surprised a little by keeping Kuleep back for as long as they did. A bad start would have meant he would have struggled to bowl his quota. Moreover, Surnisers started strongly in their chase of 172 when he was summoned; they were 70 for 1, and Shikhar Dhawan looked in the best form he has been in since the start of the World T20 in March.
Knight Riders chose Kuldeep ahead of Piyush Chawla. They didn't give him any soft introduction. Now he had to prove that he was the man worth such confidence. He set the tone with the first ball itself. He is a bowler who looks for sideways turn to beat batsmen, and the first ball turned big. Dhawan kept it out, but Naman Ojha struggled to meet the ball with the middle of the bat for the rest of the over.
It was perhaps the wrong'un that prevented Ojha from committing to any shot but the sweep. But Kuldeep didn't bowl a single wrong'un at Ojha, who eventually fell to the one that goes away, from Narine, when he had decided he was going to hit big anyway.
The pressure that Kuldeep exerted through this big accurate turn - eight balls for four runs - brought about a slog sweep from Dhawan that was caught at deep midwicket. His pressure resulted in Ojha's wicket too. Now remained the final frontier - a fascinating test against Yuvraj Singh. Kuldeep bowled a wrong'un to him first up, was driven for a boundary down the ground off the second ball, but had his own back for most of his next over.
That he beat Kane Williamson with a wrong'un off first ball of the 14th over was good enough in itself but he proceeded to beat Yuvraj comprehensively with two big turning regulation deliveries. You could sense with Yuvraj's two failed slogs, and with the target reaching 75 off 38, that either some special batting or a wicket was around the corner. Yuvraj took the former route, reading the legbreak, skipping down the track, and languorously lofting him over long-off for six. Under pressure, he still gave the ball a rip. Yuvraj picked it again, though, and went over extra cover for another six.
For the best part of three overs, Kuldeep had done a stellar job, but now was the test. The youngster was being put under pressure by a man he was brought in to negate. The game and the season was on the line. It was 63 needed off six overs now.
Would the captain show the same faith in him with five overs to go and Yuvraj on fire? How would he react? Would he still give it a rip? Would there be a wrong'un turning into the pads? We were denied this fascinating contest as Yuvraj fell in the 15th over, but Kuldeep went on to seal the deal in the 16th, conceding just six and taking Williamson's wicket. With this performance, though, Kuldeep might have earned himself a right to that bigger test.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo