Test debuts rarely come in envisaged circumstances. Kuldeep Yadav's came in the decider of an intense series, as replacement for the injured captain, a batsman. Both sides had thrown everything at each other, and Kuldeep was the ace up India's sleeve. If some reports are to be believed, there had been a tug of war between the captain and coach over when to show the ace, if indeed it was to be shown. However, with the captain resting, Kuldeep was told the day before the fourth Test in Dharamsala that he was playing. He couldn't sleep that night.
On the morning of the Test, Kuldeep was called upon to to pull Australia back when they were running away with the game at a fast pace. Australia went in to lunch at 131 for 1, but when they came back, Kuldeep got David Warner, Peter Handscomb and Glenn Maxwell to make immediate impact on the series. He hasn't played Test cricket since, but with Ravindra Jadeja suspended for a match, he is all set to try to make further impact on Test cricket as India's first left-arm wristspinner.
Bigger impact, though, has been made, and Kuldeep has seen it himself. "I think there are a lot of chinaman bowlers around now," Kuldeep said after India's training session in Pallekele. "When I started out, there were hardly any. You go to any cricket academy, and there are eight-ten chinaman bowlers practising. People have started bowling like this. That's one thing that has surely changed after my debut, and I think we will see more of such spinners in the future in not only state and Ranji level, but also, hopefully, at international level. It is a happy feeling that people have recognised this skill."
Personally, too, life has taken a turn for Kuldeep. "If you are playing Test cricket and playing for India, life definitely changes," he said. "There is no more proud feeling than this that you can give to your family. I feel really proud to represent India, feel happy that the hard work from childhood has paid off."
In between his two Tests - he hasn't yet been told he is playing but he should if he is fit - Kuldeep has played a whole ODI series under the captain he replaced in the side for the Dharamsala Test. And in that ODI series, in the West Indies, the captain seemed impressed with his sorcery.
"If the captain believes in you, then you have done half your work," Kuldeep said. "Captain's belief is very important, and Virat bhai supports me a lot. He supported me completely in West Indies, and the way he talks to the players on the ground, the way he spoke to me in the ODIs, it felt very nice because the captain's confidence is the biggest thing for a player."
It will help Kuldeep that the current bowling coach of the team has worked with him at junior levels too. "I have been working with Bharat Arun for the past 10 years," Kuldeep said, "ever since I was playing in Under-16, in Under-19 also. I share a lot of things with him, and he tells me a lot about bowling as well. He has been seeing me ever since I was a junior cricketer, and he knows what to do and what not to do. It is very easy to work with him so I am happy to continue to work with him."
One of the challenges the duo of Kuldeep and Arun will have to overcome is the Sri Lanka batsmen's strategy to keep sweeping the spinners. Kuldeep recognises the challenge, but also sees an opportunity in it. "[Kusal] Mendis and [Dimuth] Karunaratne batted very well in the last Test, they played the sweep very well," he said. "It is difficult for spinners if the batsmen are playing the sweep so effectively. It becomes easy for the batsmen and tougher for the spinner, so my plan is to try and control that shot. But playing the sweep also means a lot of chances, so if you plan even a little bit, it can get you wickets."
Three days out, there seemed to be some grass on the Pallekele surface. Three days is a long time for the grass to survive in Asia, but even if it were to, it won't faze Kuldeep. "For me, the wicket doesn't matter," he said. "I don't see the wicket at all. In childhood, I used to bowl on cement wickets and there can be no better wickets [for batting] than cement wickets. On grassy wickets, some balls can bounce and some can skid through. So there is still some advantage even if there is no turn."
Kuldeep knows how rare chances for spinners are in a squad that has the No. 1 and No. 3 bowlers in the world. He is mindful he will have to make the most of it. "You cannot walk into the team so easily, and you have to wait; that's the rule of cricket," he said. "It is good that I have worked with them [R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja], and I have been in the team with them for last six-seven months. So I have got to learn a lot from them, especially playing Test cricket with them. You gain experience like this and it helps in the future. I try to stay with them mostly and keep talking to them; they help me a lot."