Match Analysis

The Kuldeep Yadav rennaissance continues

The left-arm wristspinner who was let go by the Knight Riders produced a statement performance against them

Deivarayan Muthu
Kolkata Knight Riders' head of talent scouting and player acquisitions AR Srikkanth spotted Kuldeep Yadav in the Buchi Babu tournament in Chennai in 2014 and was so impressed by him that he immediately called up Trevor Bayliss, the then head coach of the franchise, and convinced him to snap up the left-arm wristspinner at the IPL auction that year. This was even before Kuldeep had emerged as India's highest wicket-taker in the 2014 Under-19 World Cup in the UAE, where he also claimed a hat-trick.
Knight Riders picked Kuldeep up for INR 40 lakh and he stayed with the side until 2022. He had made his IPL debut, for KKR, in 2016 and across the next two seasons, he became their highest wicket-taker, with 29 strikes in 27 games at an economy rate of 8.20.
Then his world turned upside down. After being taken to the cleaners by England on a flat Edgbaston pitch in the 2019 World Cup, he was no longer a regular in India's white-ball sides. By 2020, he was no longer a regular in the Knight Riders' XI, with the franchise veering towards pairing Sunil Narine up with another mystery spinner in Varun Chakravarthy.
In IPL 2021, Kuldeep didn't get a single game before a knee injury prematurely ended his stint and forced him to fly back home for rehab.
On Sunday afternoon, Kuldeep, who was recruited by Delhi Capitals at the auction earlier this year, ran into his former franchise. A few hours later he was toasting a Player-of-the-Match performance.
Sure, Kuldeep (4-35) had scoreboard pressure to lean on in Capitals' defence of 215, but his control over his variations against a power-packed Knight Riders line-up saw him add another chapter to his re-emergence.
The left-handed Nitish Rana lined up Kuldeep in his very first over and walloped a slog-sweep over midwicket for six. Then, when he returned, Shreyas Iyer was in big-hitting mode, having charged at Axar Patel and launched him over his head for six. The preceding over from Rovman Powell had gone for 17 runs.
Kuldeep cut his pace down to 78.9 kph and dangled one so wide that it would've been an off-side wide had Shreyas missed it. Not only did the batter reach it, he also expertly shovelled it to the left of Shardul Thakur at wide long-on. Shreyas then dashed out to Kuldeep as well, pumping his stock ball over the midwicket boundary for a six that brought him his fifty off 32 balls. With Andre Russell - and Pat Cummins - in the dug-out, it felt like Knight Riders were onto something, despite the rapidly rising asking rate.
The Brabourne Stadium pitch was perhaps as flat as the Edgbaston one where he was torn into shreds in 2019, but Kuldeep was now wiser and more confident with his skills. He immediately struck back, sliding a wrong'un across an advancing Shreyas from a shorter length and having him stumped for 54 off 33 balls.
He then took out Cummins, Narine and Umesh Yadav in the space of four balls in the 16th over to send Knight Riders tumbling to a 44-run defeat. Cummins was done in by a skidder while Narine and Umesh skied the legbreak. No longer one to leave anything to chance, Kuldeep tore across to the midwicket region from his followthrough and dived full-length to snag Umesh's return catch near the 30-yard circle.
Was that a point proven to his former franchise? The cathartic roar that he let out after completing that spectacular catch suggested it might well have been.

Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo