Kuldeep Yadav could feel the pressure of bowling to MS Dhoni on Wednesday evening. Despite being a spinner, Kuldeep was picked by Gautam Gambhir to bowl the 18th over of Rising Pune Supergiant's innings with Dhoni and Steven Smith in a partnership of 35 runs from 21 balls. One batsman had regained his touch of smashing sixes in the end overs and the other has not gone out of form since landing in India for the Test series.
"If you are a spinner there's always pressure on you," Kuldeep said after the match. "As a spinner, I believe that you can put the opposition under pressure by picking wickets. Like in the last over I took two wickets and they were under pressure. Bowling the 18th over is always tough; the captain needs to believe in you for that."
Kuldeep's first ball to Dhoni in the match, in the 16th over, had been pulled for a flat six over midwicket. In the 18th over, Kuldeep deceived Dhoni with a googly. Dhoni stepped out to get to the pitch of the ball, but it turned away, beat his bat and was stumped.
"Bowling to Dhoni bhai is always challenging and I could feel the pressure," Kuldeep recalled. "But I wasn't scared that he would hit me for a six or a four. I flighted the ball and I was focused on getting him out."
Three balls later, Kuldeep had Manoj Tiwary on strike, Rising Pune's best batsman this season in terms of strike rate (with at least five innings). Kuldeep had conceded only three runs in four balls until then in the over and he had Tiwary stumped even though the batsman did not step out to hit him. Kuldeep bowled another googly, Tiwary leaned forward to tuck the ball to the leg side with the spin but the ball went the other way and Tiwary's back foot was outside the crease.
Kuldeep, however, said the conventional legspinner was still his stock delivery as he used the wrong'un and the flipper mainly to get wickets.
"It (googly) is only a variation and you can use it in T20s to confuse a batsman when he is attacking," he said. "But I really believe in my chinaman bowling rather than the wrong'un and flipper. I back my stock ball more and I'm mainly a chinaman bowler; the wrong'un is a variation you use to pick wickets or stop the runs. But my main delivery is chinaman delivery. Obviously, the wrong'un gets you wickets and the batsmen keep wondering if the ball will come in or go out, they find it difficult to pick, especially the overseas batsmen. So if you dismiss Indian batsmen like that, it's a big boost for confidence."
Kuldeep has so far gone wicketless in just one match this IPL and has collected eight wickets, joint with team-mates Nathan Coulter-Nile and Umesh Yadav, who have had the advantage of a pacer-friendly relaid pitch at Eden Gardens.
Kuldeep has had an impressive run since the beginning of the domestic season. He was the highest wicket-taker and the leading run-scorer for Uttar Pradesh in the Ranji Trophy; he topped the wicket-takers charts in the Duleep Trophy too, with 17 wickets in three matches, and he shone on his Test debut with 4 for 68 against Australia in Dharamsala.
"If you play the entire season and you're highest run-getter or the highest wicket-taker, it becomes easier to play on the next level because of the momentum you are carrying," Kuldeep said. "If you aren't playing domestic cricket you might lack in some places. I've played Duleep Trophy, one-dayers, T20s, India A, so this season has been really helpful for me which is why I have a lot of confidence."
Knight Riders will play their next match against Delhi Daredevils on Friday.