Kuldeep has often been described as a bit of a misfit in the more slapdash versions of the game, bowling slower with each boundary he gets hit for (AFP Image)
Kuldeep has often been described as a bit of a misfit in the more slapdash versions of the game, bowling slower with each boundary he gets hit for (AFP Image)

Andre Agassi had once joked that India’s then No. 1 tennis player, Ramesh Krishnan, had the toughest serve he had ever returned because he had to wait so long for the ball to reach him. 

After a typically elegant century in the third ODI, Usman Khawaja had admitted that negotiating India’s chinaman bowler Kuldeep Yadav may have been the trickiest period for him during his innings, as he would often try to give the strike back to his captain Aaron Finch in the middle. Kuldeep has often been described as a bit of a misfit in the more slapdash versions of the game, bowling slower with each boundary he gets hit for, relying on turn off the pitch and a peach of a wrong’un, rather than bowling faster and flatter. (ALSO READ: Chahal and I haven’t pipped anyone: Kuldeep on shutting the door on Ashwin, Jadeja)

On Sunday, in a game where Australia had to conjure up their highest run-chase ever, a target worth 359 achieved with 13 balls to spare no less, Kuldeep still emerged with figures of 1 for 64 from his 10 overs. With the series level on 2-2 with one more left to play, Virat Kohli’s men have given Australia a huge opportunity to overturn their series defeat back home and return with the confidence of having secured an ODI series victory without the services of three of their team’s mainstays. (ALSO READ: Yuzvendra Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav ‘strongest spin duo in world’, says Virat Kohli)

India’s poor defence of such a huge total wasn’t helped by several instances of poor fielding and game awareness, and yet the left-arm chinaman bowler was left to rue a missed opportunity to remove Peter Handscomb, who had just reached a maiden ODI century, while Ashton Turner, who single-handedly took the visitors to victory, had just arrived at the crease. And after getting hit for back-to-back boundaries, Kuldeep had managed to lure Handscomb into advancing down the track, shorten his length and beat the bat. Instead, wicketkeeper Rishabh Pant missed a chance, which sparked a series of comical errors from the Indian fielders around the PCA Stadium in Mohali. (ALSO READ: Tough switching from white-ball cricket to red-ball format: Kuldeep Yadav)

He may not have been able to remove Handscomb in Mohali, but he still was able to trap Glenn Maxwell in front of the stumps for 23, which added to the list of important scalps he has produced in the series so far. At Hyderabad, however, Handscomb was lured into a similar error to which MS Dhoni made no mistake behind the stumps, while also removing a well set Khawaja for 50. At Nagpur, Finch, Maxwell and Alex Carey, and another three-for in Ranchi where he got Finch, Shaun Marsh and Hanscomb again. Top order wickets are like a badge of honour for bowlers, and Kuldeep’s ability to snuff out partnerships is a welcome boon. (ALSO READ: What mystery? Sab bakwas hai: Kuldeep Yadav)

Australia’s comeback into the ODI series notwithstanding, Kuldeep has emerged in this series as India’s premier wrist-spinner in recent months, turning the opportunity of filling in for established bowlers like Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja into one that sees him with a confirmed place in India’s ICC Cricket World Cup plans. In this series alone, Kuldeep has nine wickets, behind only Pat Cummins’ 12. A bowling average of 21.13 after 43 ODIs is no mean feat, especially after bowling on road-like surfaces where bullies have replaced batsmen around the world. (ALSO READ: Never in my wildest dreams I thought of being part of World Cup squad: Kuldeep Yadav)

The trend of IPL success stories being fast-tracked into the Indian cricket team has become rather commonplace, but Kuldeep didn’t have an easy initiation to international cricket, especially in the longer version. Picked for the Lord’s Test last year, Kuldeep’s unimpressive nine overs had cost 44 runs, and just as surprising his inclusion in that team was, being sent back shortly after that game was some more. By his bowl admission, he found the step up to red-ball cricket daunting, the occasion got to him and he bowled poorly. This was after he had bamboozled England’s batsmen with a five-wicket haul – at Lord’s – in the T20 series that preceded the Tests. (VIDEO: We juniors want to be as fit as our captain Virat Kohli: Kuldeep Yadav)

Since then, however, Kuldeep has turned things around for himself and his team on more than one occasion, and in more than one format of the game. His second five-for, in Sydney at the start of 2019, won India their first Test series in Australia. Even as calls for the return of Ashwin – who hasn’t played an ODI since 2017 – and Jadeja grow, Kuldeep and Yuzvendra Chahal’s performances are making it difficult for India’s more established spin twins to claw their way back into 15-men squads, let alone XIs.

He may reject the claim, but Kuldeep and Chahal’s increasing reputation are a reason Ashwin and Jadeja haven’t even been needed together in the Indian ODI teams in the recent past. Yadav’s promotion into the Grade A of the BCCI’s central contracts for the year running is another strong indicator of the long-term plans the team management has for the left-arm bowler from Uttar Pradesh.