Nailing down a spinner’s spot in the current Indian line-up is an arduous task. Ravindra Jadeja is such an all-round package — he can pick up wickets, control runs, bowl quick overs, bat and field — that even a bona fide great in R. Ashwin has had to warm the bench.
Then there is Axar Patel, who in the seven Tests so far has picked up a whopping 44 wickets at an average of 13, including five five-wicket hauls.
For Kuldeep Yadav, it has been doubly difficult to retain his place in the pecking order. An automatic pick for India across formats just over three years ago, a combination of injuries, loss of form and lack of support from team managements had left him in the wilderness.
But, with a match-winning performance in the first Test against Bangladesh — eight for 113 and 40, both career-best figures — Kuldeep has thrown his hat back into the ring. The contest marked a significant milestone in a year of improvements for the left-arm unorthodox spinner, starting with the fine show in the IPL for his new side Delhi Capitals (21 wickets).
“It’s a lot of work he has put in,” said Paras Mhambrey, India’s bowling coach. “There was a lot of discussion about the speeds he was bowling at, and how people felt he was a little slower in the air. He has worked on that and credit to him. There are changes in his run-up and he has worked on the angles that allow him to be quicker in the air. He has been unfortunate with injuries. But very happy with the way he has come up to get his best figures.”
Australia’s Brad Hogg, a fellow left-arm unorthodox bowler, who is commentating in the current series, was impressed with the lengths Kuldeep bowled.
“We can talk about the lines but you get it on the right length and then you can play with the lines on that length, play with the batter’s footwork, and also set-up certain deliveries with your variations,” Hogg told The Hindu.“ I was impressed with the control he had, with a slight change in the action.”
The twin dismissals of Bangladesh skipper Shakib Al Hasan were instructive. In the first innings, the drift on the ball from outside off to leg forced Shakib, who had stepped out, to hurriedly close the face and edge a catch to first slip. In the second essay, the ball was only deceptively full and the southpaw was cleaned-up.
On current form, Kuldeep should be an automatic pick for the second Test in Mirpur, making it only the second time he would play back-to-back India Tests (previous: vs. West Indies, 2018). In fact, in nearly six years since debut, he has featured in just eight Tests, spread across seven series.
Conditions, fellow spinners’ availability and their superior batting returns will continue to dictate his selection in the future. But after the show at the Zahur Ahmed Chowdhury Stadium, he is firmly back in contention.