New Delhi: Chinaman bowler Kuldeep Yadav had been at the forefront of India's spin attack since June 2017 when skipper Virat Kohli decided to draft him and leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal in place of R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, even leading them to a historic ODI series win over South Africa in 2018. But over the past one year, his form and luck have waned.
His past performances and captain Virat Kohli's preferences seem to have influenced selectors to pick him in the India ODI side for Australia, although his form of late hasn't been good in that format. Kuldeep hasn't been included for the subsequent T20 series.
Since his thrashing at the hands of England in the 50-over World Cup last year when he gave away 72 runs in 10 overs, the left-arm unorthodox spinner has failed to make as good an impression in the ODIs as he earlier had.
Between his debut on June 23, 2017 till June 29, 2019, a day before he got thrashed by England in the World Cup, he had picked 91 wickets in 49 matches at an average of 23.06 and returned an economy rate of 4.88. He got a wicket after every 28.3 balls.
Compared with this period, the next phase recorded his decline. Between July 1, 2019, i.e. a day after England thrashing, till February 5, 2020, when he played his last ODI, he picked 12 wickets in 10 matches at an average of 45.83. In this period, he conceded 5.97 runs per over and bagged a wicket every 46th ball.
He got whipped for 84 runs in 10 overs in the last ODI he played, in Hamilton. Even in the four ODIs before that -- all at home against Australia and WI -- he conceded runs without taking many wickets.
Clearly, his skills in the ODIs have waned, of late, and the only reason he could be travelling with the team is that there aren't many other experienced wrist-spin options for India in the ODIs.
Although on Australia's bouncy surfaces, wrist spin will hold the key, India could have tried experienced off-spinner R Ashwin, who has had an impressive IPL outing with Delhi Capitals by taking 13 wickets in 13 matches. Ashwin picked many of his wickets through pure traditional, off-spinner's skills.
Kuldeep's chances of making a comeback in India's T20 side, where he had been reasonably good until his last two internationals, has been hindered by his franchise Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) not playing him much this season as they already had two quality bowlers who could dish out mystery spin.
A look at the list of wicket-takers in the IPL this season shows Kuldeep at the 70th position. Even in the five games he played, he took only one wicket.
Ahead of him in the wicket-takers' list are not just Yuzvendra Chahal, Varun Chakravarthy, Rahul Chahar, R Ashwin, Ravi Bishnoi, Rahul Tewatia, M Ashwin, Shreyas Gopal, Krunal Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, and Shahbaz Nadeem but also ageing spinners like Piyush Chawla, Karn Sharma, and Amit Mishra.
It is clear that time is running out for Kuldeep and this could be his last chance to make an impression. Will he pick up the gauntlet and deliver?