India’s premier spinner in white-ball cricket – Kuldeep Yadav spoke about the ‘big influence’ that Gautam Gambhir and Wasim Akram had on him in his early years at the Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR). Kuldeep said that Gambhir, who led Kolkata to two Indian Premier League (IPL) titles in 2012 and 2014, gave him confidence by assuring him of a place in the team while legendary Pakistan pacer Akram prepared him on the mental aspects of the game.

“Gauti bhai had a huge influence on me from the start of my stint at KKR. He always spoke to me a lot. Not only during the time he was at KKR, but even after that, over these last two years,” the 25-year-old Kuldeep was quoted as saying by the franchise’s website.

“He always kept me motivated. When you get that kind of confidence from your captain, it becomes a huge plus point for any player. It helps you remain confident, and that translates into good performances.”

The chinaman bowler said that he used to try to sit next to Akram in the dug-out during KKR matches and try to pick his brain.

“Wasim sir used to like me a lot too. He didn’t speak much about bowling, but he prepared me a lot in terms of mentally taking on the game. He prepared me to take on different situations in different ways, and taught me how to react when batsmen put you under pressure,” said Kuldeep.

“When he was at KKR, I used to sit with him and pick his brain a lot. I used to sit next to him in the dugout during matches and ask questions about real-time situations.”

Kuldeep said he used to ask Akram what he would have done in certain situations. “He would test me by asking me what my approach would have been.

“So apart from Gauti bhai, he was someone who had a big influence on me during those early years. He also has a very good sense of humour, so it was great having him around,” said Kuldeep.

Kuldeep started his IPL career at Mumbai Indians in 2012 but it was after he was bought by Kolkata Knight Riders in 2014 that he started rising up the ranks in domestic cricket. The left-arm spinner has so far played 21 T20Is and 60 ODIs for India, in which he has taken 39 and 104 wickets respectively.