Yuvraj dominates Kuldeep in spin battle
A lot of T20 cricket is about denial. Deny the batsmen boundaries. Deny them pace to work with. Deny them rhythm. Wickets come through denial. In a bottomline format, though, we are often denied intriguing one-on-one contests. Kuldeep Yadav v Yuvraj Singh is one of them. It's two matches in the making; Yuvraj has scored 37 off 13 balls off Kuldeep. The young spinner denied Sunrisers Hyderabad a top-two finish after taking 3 for 35 in their previous game.
On one side of this contest is a left-arm wristspinner, brought in to counter Sunrisers' left-handed batsmen. Nobody seems to be picking his wrong'un in an environment where even the best - Kane Williamson, for example - can't afford to watch the release too closely. In the other corner is one of those left-handed batsmen who has traditionally had problems against quality spin. He is also somebody who can demoralise a bowler once he gets going.
This contest begins with Kuldeep in the ascendancy. In their last league match, Kolkata Knight Riders had to win to progress. Sunrisers had to win to finish in the top two. Defending 171, Kuldeep was introduced in the 10th over with the game in the balance. He conceded four runs and claimed Shikhar Dhawan's wicket in his first nine deliveries. In walks Yuvraj. With Yuvraj, you can often tell in the first two balls what kind of touch he is in. He reads a wrong'un late, and then dances down off the next ball to beautifully loft Kuldeep down the ground for four. No clues there then.
In his next over, Kuldeep first beats Williamson with a wrong'un. The turning ball frustrates Yuvraj. You can't be sure if Yuvraj has suddenly started picking his variations, but next ball he is down the track, to the pitch of the ball, and languidly lofts him back over his head for six. If you get to the pitch of the ball, it doesn't matter which way it is turning. He draws a flat delivery next, and lofts him over extra cover.
How does this young spinner react to this setback. Yuvraj doesn't last long enough to face the next over, in which Kuldeep goes on to redeem himself with a wicket and just six runs. A curtailed contest.
In three days they face up again. Sunrisers are asked to bat first, and Kuldeep runs amok again. In his first over, he concedes five runs. In his second, he removes Moises Henriques and David Warner, the latter bowled off a wrong'un. Kuldeep v Yuvraj again. With the batsmen tied down and the score at 82 for 3 after 12 overs, Kuldeep begins his third over.
Yuvraj is facing Kuldeep for the first time on the night. Again, he manages to get to the pitch of the ball to devastating effect. First, he whips Kuldeep to wide long-on, then once again he is out of the crease to loft him straight back over his head. It's Kuldeep's move next, and he bowls a flatter legbreak to beat Yuvraj. The signs are good. He has not tried the modern spinner's T20 response to aggression: bowling short and trying not to turn the ball. He has again tried to beat the batsman, who is having the better of him, with spin, with big spin.
At the end of the over, though, denial comes back. It is a containment game, and this budding contest is cut short as Kuldeep is taken out of the attack. He has to eventually bowl his final over, and with Yuvraj not getting out, every passing over makes his final over a big risk. Through a direct-hit run-out, Kuldeep creates an opportunity to bowl at the end of the 16th over.
The new batsman, Ben Cutting, is on strike at the start of the 17th over. Kuldeep is back playing his tricks. With the first ball, he has Cutting stumped with a wrong'un. He then concedes just one off the next three balls to Naman Ojha, whom he tormented in Kolkata too. It's slipping out of the hands of Sunrisers again, they have 134 on the board. Yuvraj gets the better of the young spinner again, hitting him for back-to-back fours, the first a sweep and then, once again, the shimmy and not letting Kuldeep turn the ball.
With some clever batting, Yuvraj's mastery of Kuldeep gives Sunrisers the runs they can defend. On a wider canvas, this can be a fascinating contest. If Kuldeep has the experience, he can prey on Yuvraj not always picking him. Yuvraj can go and bully him some more. This contest needs a longer spell to develop. When a couple of boundaries don't force the captain to take the bowler off. When the batsman is watching the release more closely. Perhaps a first-class match then. Oh, by the way, Yuvraj, bowled on 47, is Kuldeep's first first-class wicket, in the only time the two have faced each other outside Twenty20 cricket.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo