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Wise Kuldeep not scared to take his chances

For a spinner in only his 15th ODI, the thought process Kuldeep showed was wise beyond the years, but it also takes a lot of guts to do that



It's the 41st over of the innings, you are bowling on a small ground, there has been a partnership of 66 including a real recent acceleration, and you are hit for a six second ball of the over. This is your second-last over. What do you do? You can protect your figures, you can protect the boundaries, bowl flat, and your team might still be happy you have done your job. Or you can take the risk, go for the wicket, which will be the sixth of the d, and give your team a real opportunity to cut the total down by 30. In the latter route, you are risking 10 extra runs.
If you are Kuldeep Yadav, you bowl it even slower, even loopier, and take a chance. Because you feel like you can get Chris Morris. And a full toss dips under Morris' sweep and gets him. "I took my chance," Kuldeep said at the end of the match. "I felt I could get him out. The six didn't faze me."
There is a reason why the six didn't scare Kuldeep. That was one of the two shots he wanted Morris to play. This was the second over of a new spell, and was being bowled from the Umgeni End. This meant the shorter boundary was on the leg side, which is where the ball would have gone if he was hit with the turn. So Kuldeep bowled a topsinner outside off, hoping for a mis-hit slog or a shot towards the bigger boundary.
"The wind carried the ball over the last time," Kuldeep said. "I wanted him to play exactly that shot because the leg-side boundary was shorter. I bowled a topspinner. I was looking for a top edge if he went for the shorter boundary at midwicket. It was a good ball, but he played a good shot."
The reading of the situation, and the option Kuldeep took after nodding to a good shot, was spot on. "There was a partnership going on," Kuldeep said. "[Faf] du Plessis and Morris were playing well. If Morris had batted on for a few more overs, they could have reached 290 or even 300. At that time, we needed a wicket. I took the chance. I always think if I try to bowl to contain I will concede more runs."
For a spinner in only his 15th ODI, the thought process is wise beyond the years, but it also takes a lot of guts to do that. The confidence flows from the leadership, which has surely been stung by the lack of this wicket-taking firepower in the middle overs in the Champions Trophy. As Virat Kohli said in the pre-match press conference, he didn't mind them going for a few extra runs as long as they bowled to take wickets.
"The mindset comes from the captain," Kuldeep said. "The way Virat bhai talks, he always tells us one extra wicket is more important than trying to save 10 runs. If your captain tells you that, then you start believing yourself. We then back our strengths."
That's why Kuldeep loves situations where the batsman is forced to play big shots against him. Or batsmen who love to play big shots. "If you bowl to someone like Ajinkya [Rahane], you hardly have any chance of getting a wicket," Kuldeep said. "It is easier to bowl to batsmen who play their shots. If you have the skill to keep taking ones and twos, it is really tough."
That the batsmen look to play big shots is often down to the pressure Kuldeep and Yuzvendra Chahal create in tandem. It helps as a bowling combination that they are of a similar age and have spent time together. "There is a lot of understanding between us," Kuldeep said. "We have been bowling for five years now together. We were together at Mumbai Indians as well. So there is a mutual understanding that is very good. Even when he bowls first in the match, we talk about how the wicket is behaving and whether it is turning or not, whether it is drifting and what the wind is doing. Communication is very important and it is very good between us, and it gets easier if your partner is bowling to support and back you up."
This was Kuldeep's first match in South Africa, the start of their big test before they go to the World Cup in England next year. Kuldeep said he was nervous, but not on account of the pitches. "Since childhood I have bowled on cement wickets," Kuldeep said. "Here at least we are playing on turf wickets. Wherever you are playing, whether in India or South Africa, it doesn't matter to me.
"In my head, the only thing is taking wickets for the team and this is Chahal's plan as well when we are bowling as a pair. The more wickets we take, the more pressure on the opposition team and the fewer runs they will score."

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo