In the lead-up to the 50-over World Cup in the UK, Kuldeep Yadav had become one half of a wristspin combination that gave India's bowling attack the cutting edge. Kuldeep enhanced his reputation further at the World Cup, when he stormed through the defences of Babar Azam with a dream delivery that drifted away and then spun back in through the gate. However, he was caught napping when England's openers came hard at him at Edgbaston, where there is a 59-metre boundary on one side.
Roy had dashed down the track to Kuldeep's second ball and laid down the marker with a straight six. At the other end, Jonny Bairstow, too, flitted around the crease and even rolled out a variety of sweeps to mess with Kuldeep's lengths and his head. He simply kept bowling into the swinging arc of England's batsmen and kept copping punishment. There was no Plan B for Kuldeep - or Yuzvendra Chahal for that matter. Even as the batsmen kept lining him up, he bowled 34 balls on the stumps and leaked 46 runs.
"It was a tough one," Kuldeep said of the past year, when he had been dropped from Kolkata Knight Riders after a poor run in the IPL 2019 as well. "I learned a lot of things and the biggest positive was getting to know that I could have planned things better."
New year, new plans for Kuldeep. In Indore, Kusal Perera took a leaf out of Bairstow's playbook and unleashed a rasping reverse-swat. When the left-arm wristspinner dropped one short on the stumps, Kusal jumped back and smoked him into the MM Jagdale stand. He knew Kusal was coming after him. So, he cut his pace, shifted his lines much wider of off, and asked Kusal to manufacture the pace for himself.
Kusal charged out of his crease, but was deceived in flight and ended up dragging the ball to long-on. Before getting Kusal with a 78kph donkey-drop in his second over, he had dismissed Oshada Fernando in similar fashion.
He invited Oshada down the track with a 79kph delivery, but the sharp dip created distance between the bat and the pitch of the ball and the sharper turn took it past the outside edge. Rishabh Pant did the rest behind the stumps. The double-strike - coupled with Navdeep Saini's range - left Sri Lanka gasping for breath and allowed India the luxury of having a slip even in the 18th over.
Kuldeep has largely been an attacking bowler and has a bag of variations, but his spell on a flat surface in Indore showed that he was prepared to bowl defensively and induce an error from the opposition.
Defensive bowling has become a thing in T20 cricket, and Kuldeep acknowledged that on the eve of the third match against Sri Lanka in Pune.
"When you are playing at a small ground like Indore, we tend to plan something different compared to when you are playing at a big ground like Nagpur," he said. "My plan was to keep the ball away from them, because of the size of the ground. I bowled a couple of balls near the stumps, but they were not effective. And I was trying to take the ball away from them and make them mistime some balls and that is how I got the wicket of Kusal [Perera]. So that was plan for the second game."
Going full and wide is Yuzvendra Chahal's modus operandi against big-hitters - just ask Glenn Maxwell. Chahal's tactical nous made him India's premier wristspinner when the management had to pick between him and Kuldeep.
Kuldeep is now getting there and getting a longer stint against Sri Lanka, partly because of the presence of a number of left-hand batsmen in the visitors' batting line-up. Earlier, he regained some of the confidence he had lost in IPL 2019 and the World Cup by claiming a hat-trick against West Indies in the Visakhapatnam ODI last December.
Washington Sundar, whose stock ball leaves the left-handers as well, has also been preferred over both Ravindra Jadeja and Yuzvendra Chahal for the Sri Lanka series. India captain Virat Kohli said as much after his side went 1-0 up at the Holkar Stadium.
"It [the selection of spinners] was purely based on the number of left-handers they [Sri Lanka] have," Kohli had told Star Sports, the host broadcaster, at the post-match presentation. "Kuldeep takes the ball away, so does Washington. It's all about match-ups. If there are more right-handers, Jadeja and Chahal become more lethal."
Kuldeep and Chahal haven't been reunited in the XI since that game against England, but both the wristspinners have reacted well to pressure since. Chahal often bowled at the death against Bangladesh and took down their designated finisher Mahmudullah, when India had played just five bowlers, including Shivam Dube, in the T20I series decider in Nagpur. Kuldeep then dug deep into his reserves against West Indies and Sri Lanka on batting-friendly pitches in Mumbai and Indore. Kuldeep isn't sure if Chahal will get a game on Friday, but they could be difficult to get away in tandem on the larger grounds in Australia at the T20 World Cup later in the year.