Match Analysis

Kuldeep spins a web around Mumbai Indians

He's always been able to beat batters with flight and turn. Now he's doing them in for pace too

Shashank Kishore
Shashank Kishore
Kuldeep Yadav celebrates after picking up Rohit Sharma's wicket, Delhi Capitals vs Mumbai Indians, IPL 2022, Mumbai, March 27, 2022

Kuldeep Yadav enjoyed a happy return to the IPL  •  BCCI

Six overs. Mumbai Indians 53 for 0. Rishabh Pant throws the ball to Kuldeep Yadav, who is making an IPL comeback. He last played the tournament 17 months ago, in UAE. That season had been a living nightmare. He'd bowled all of 12 overs across five games for Kolkata Knight Riders. He wasn't the force he once was.
Until IPL 2019, he had averaged 19.43 with an economy rate of 7.32. Now, he couldn't even get a game. His stocks had fallen alarmingly. When you thought it couldn't get worse, IPL 2021 came along. In the first half, he didn't fit into the scheme of things. In the second, he aggravated a knee injury that required surgery. He was set back another five months.
Sunday's return somewhat completed his re-initiation into top-flight cricket. Last month, he was part of India's white-ball squads for the home series against West Indies. He did well in the limited opportunities he got but was far from the threat he had become in partnership with Yuzvendra Chahal over a two-year period between 2017 and 2019.
Now, he is back with a new team on a ground with short straight boundaries. Kuldeep knew bowling full would be asking for trouble. On a surface where the ball skidded on and batters hit through the line without fear, the left-arm wristspinner needed to quickly settle in and find his lengths. Ishan Kishan had already turbocharged his way to 22, Rohit Sharma was just switching gears. This was no soft introduction.
Kishan is itching to tee off, but Kuldeep quickly pulls his length back and forces him to the longer leg-side boundary with two men back. By bowling a lot quicker and still managing to give it revs, Kuldeep got the ball to break away as well, something that seemed to have fizzled out of his repertoire when he went through a prolonged rough patch.
"We've been excited by what we saw in the lead-up to the tournament," the Capitals assistant coach Shane Watson told Star Sports during a flash interview. "He's been hungry to prove a point. We know he's highly skilled in all conditions. He doesn't have to turn the ball, he has his variations, changes in lengths, bowls the wrong'uns. He has been bowling a little quicker."
By keeping Rohit quiet, Kuldeep forces the Mumbai captain to re-think. Rohit's release shot turns out to be an attempted reverse sweep, something he doesn't play very often. But because Kuldeep's in-between length has been hard to hit, Rohit tries to use the away drift to his advantage. He can't hit it clean. Rohit lets out a cry of anguish. He knows the Capitals are trying to make him hit towards the longer boundary, and he does exactly that to pick out deep midwicket.
Kuldeep's confidence is on the rise, clear in his toying of Anmolpreet Singh. Having beaten him in flight one ball, he induces a leading edge off the next. It just eludes his fingertips. Then he brings out his magic ball - the wrong'un - the kind of ball wristspinners can at times over bowl. Anmolpreet is beaten. The ball spins from leg to off. Kuldeep's wry smile tells you he enjoyed that. And in his next over, he deceives Anmolpreet in flight and has him caught at long-off.
"Since joining the Delhi Capitals camp, I've been working on hitting good length area," Kuldeep said after his spell. "I've chatted a lot with Ricky [Ponting] about this. I also had a lot of discussions with Rohit [during the West Indies series] about varying lengths in T20 cricket. I've been working hard, and the results are showing."
"When you're in good rhythm, the pace [through the air] comes. When I wanted to push it further, it was going up. I was able to control it. Maybe that's why batters didn't get much time [to line him up]. The wicket was very good, there was not much help for the bowlers. You needed to vary your length. It was important to not give batters time. If you did, then they would have had enough time to step out and score. Varying your length and pace was key."
If the first two wickets were a result of planning, the third was down to oodles of luck. And someone who bowled as well as Kuldeep did deserve some. Off the penultimate ball of his spell, he had Pollard nail a pull, except it was intercepted superbly by Tim Seifert at square leg. Pollard picked the bones out of what was no more than a long hop. On another night, it would've landed on the streets outside. Instead, Kuldeep, who finished his spell, with a slip and leg slip encouraging him to spin it past Tim David, finishes with 3 for 18. Seventeen of his twenty-four balls were around a length or a tad shorter, only twice did he err on the fuller side.
On a night where batter after batter showed they were never out of the game, where the scoring rate hovered around nine an over, and where not even the prospect of needing 75 off 42 deterred the Capitals, Kuldeep's figures stood out. Enough for him to be adjudged Player of the Match. It capped off a happy return to the IPL, too.

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo