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MX News Update 2024

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Still in the past, but not lost: the chronicles of Kuldeep Yadav

Bengaluru: About a year ago, I sat next to host Gaurav Kapoor and teammate Yuzvendra Chahal at the Breakfast with champions show, Kuldeep Yadav showed them an image of himself from 2014.

It’s not something a professional athlete would be proud of. Kuldeep wasn’t either. But his reaction to what he’s eaten since then to lose weight sums up his experience.

Though the question was more about nutrition, Kuldeep said, “Dhoke-dhakke sab khaya hun (I have eaten betrayals and failures).”

The line elicits laughter from the other two on set, perhaps as intended by Kuldeep, but you could tell there was a hint of sadness behind the joke.

The left-arm wrist spinner has been part of the Indian setup since 2017 and has still only played 12 Tests, 103 ODIs and 35 T20Is. Although much of his playing time was cut short due to surgery on his knee, the ebb and flow of his confidence dictated his presence or lack thereof.

Kuldeep, to be honest, was very confident in his craft when he entered the professional space, so much so that he was too rigid to listen to those around him.

In the space of about two years, he went from being one of India’s leading spinners, the supposed one-man wrecking crew for India abroad, to the fifth option after R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Axar Patel and Washington Sundar. That was humiliating.

Not long ago, Kuldeep claimed that MS Dhoni’s departure did not help matters as he did not have that person to guide him. But once he ingratiated himself with Rohit Sharma, he was able to express himself better.

This trait of Kuldeep is clearly visible even in the Indian Premier League as he has still not, and rightly so, let go of the fact that no one in the Kolkata Knight Riders camp helped him gain confidence. Instead, they kept insisting that he pick up the pace without telling him how to do it.

Sab kehte rahe speed badhao, but kaise karna hai wo kisi ne nahi bola (Everyone said, I need to increase my speed, but no one told me how),” Kuldeep said earlier this year.

“I was afraid to try new things. Before my injury, I had been bowling with the same action for 15 years. There were a lot of questions in my mind.”

These questions led him to seek the help of children’s coach Kapil Pandey.

After mapping out everything expected of him from the coaches and support staff, the duo went to the drawing board and came up with a plan.

Although this meant putting a little more strain on his knees than he should have at the time, he was finally able to redo his action and tick all the boxes.

As India embark on a long journey to America for the T20 World Cup, Kuldeep has emerged as the leading spinner. It’s not a role he thought he would reprise; his brain tends to keep turning silently, and yet here he is.

A little wiser, a little more understanding of the ways of the world, and a little of that chip on the shoulder has been dulled. Kuldeep is feeling comfortable and it shows in the way he is tackling this edition of the IPL.

After finding solace in Rishabh Pant’s captaincy, Kuldeep has taken 14 wickets from nine matches at an average of 20.20, an economy of 8.20 and a strike rate of 15. These are not objectively great figures, but given how the season plays out for bowlers overall these are not bad at all.

Moreover, his attitude was uplifting. “I think bowlers need to be a bit braver. Instead of sticking to their own plans, they are more concerned about the strength of batsmen. Look at Jasprit Bumrah. Recently, Ashutosh Sharma took his yorker for a six, but has he stopped bowling the yorker? No, he sticks to his strengths and that is why he is doing so well,” Kuldeep said when asked if the Impact Player rule made it tougher for bowlers.

This was even evident on Tuesday evening when Pant brought him on in the 18th over when Rajasthan Royals needed 41 runs from 18 balls. Kuldeep took two wickets and conceded four runs to turn the tide.

Look, Kuldeep still spends a little too much time talking about how he was betrayed and how the world hasn’t been kind to him, but at least he’s not using them as an excuse anymore. Maybe that’s his version of wisdom.

Either way, he’s in a much better state of mind. And that is often the only difference between a bowler who bowls to restrict and one who bowls to dismiss.

Published May 8, 2024, 3:49 PM IST