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Kuldeep Yadav played a big role in India winning the Asia Cup Super Four match against Pakistan with a five-wicket haul. Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: A few years ago, Indian spinner Kuldeep Yadav was in his own paradise. Life was blissful for the youngster when he was on the top of his game. He would not take one misstep in his run-up while conjuring his rivals one after the other. He raced to 100 wickets in his 58th match, becoming the fastest Indian to achieve the feat. He is also was the fastest to reach 50 wickets in 14 ODIs and to scalp the fastest 50 wickets in T20s, from 30 matches.

But it suddenly changed one day and he started losing control over his game. From a feared wicket-taker, the slip-up was so bad that Kuldeep failed to find a place in the Indian team. Even his Indian Premier League franchises were not willing to bet on him as his form dropped drastically and a career-threatening knee injury made matters worse.

But the fighter he’s known for, Kuldeep spun the trials around into triumphs, showing his class against Pakistan in the Asia Cup Super Four match. He ended up with a five-wicket haul, his career second, that saw India seal the match by 228 runs. He followed it up another fine show picking up four wickets against Sri Lanka the next day.  It is a big turn of fortunes that signals the left-arm wrist spinner is back to his best to lead hosts India’s charge in the 50-over World Cup, to begin next month.

Dream debut

After making his ODI debut in 2017, Kuldeep was India’s go-to-man and he didn’t disappoint his captains, starting from Mahendra Singh Dhoni to Virat Kohli to Rohit Sharma. Kuldeep’s career-best of six for 25 came against England at Nottingham, just a year before the Three Lions won their first World Cup title. Bowling in tandem with leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal, Kuldeep allowed India to wrest back the initiative in the crucial middle overs.

The left-arm wrist spinner, the one of the few in international cricket, was India’s strike bowler when the Men in Blue won the Asia Cup in 2018, the last title so far, in Dubai.

Like any international player, his form dipped, his rhythm started to stutter. Along side, Kuldeep faced with a career-threatening knee injury, that could have curtailed his blossoming career. But a surgery in September 2021 proved to be a blessing in disguise on several counts.

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Kuldeep Yadav has modified his action, with an aggressive run-up, that has given him the edge in his new spell. Image Credit: AFP

Firstly, it gave Kuldeep the chance to get back to his bowling mark and what ensued was even more remarkable. While he was undergoing rehab at the National Cricket Academy in Bengaluru, the wrist spinner’s action got modified with an aggressive run-up, which was instrumental in Kuldeep coming back in a new avatar.

“It’s been over one and a half years since I had the surgery. The run-up has become straighter. The rhythm has become aggressive. The approach is nice. Maybe my hand used to fall over but that is well in control and faces the batter more. At the same time, I did not lose my spin and drift, and my pace increased — all of which helped me. If a leg-spinner lands the ball on a good length, there are more chances of him picking up a wicket. If you are a leg-spinner, you tend to bowl a lot of loose balls but if you become consistent, you can succeed,” Kuldeep told a press conference on Monday.

Reduction in workload on knee

“After my surgery, I was out of the game for about five months. After my three-month rehab, my physio — Ashish Koushik at the NCA — suggested that I must do something to my action to reduce load on my knee,” he added.

Spinners need to be aggressive in modern day cricket when the batters, armed with their power-hitting, threaten to send every ball out of the park. Unlike in the past, when batters dictate terms and the spinners wait patiently for their wickets with teasing line and length, current spinners want to dictate terms. It’s the evolution of the game, especially in the shorter formats, which has been triggered by legends like Shane Warne and Muttiah Muralitharan. Their success in Twenty20 gave spinners, an endangered species in white-ball cricket, a new lease of life.

The last one and half years have been amazing for Kuldeep, who is now tasting success as in the past and has emerged as the India’s top wicket-taker in men’s ODIs this year, securing 27 wickets in 14 matches.

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Kuldeep Yadav's return to his top form has given India a potent weapon in the World Cup. Image Credit: AFP

“I worked on my rhythm, made it quicker. Bowled it in a practice game in Kanpur and found that the batsmen found it difficult to face. Then I returned to the Indian team for the tour of the West Indies, but couldn’t find my rhythm. Even in the IPL, my rhythm was breaking. It took about six to seven months for the new action to work.”

Rhythm and consistency key to success

Kuldeep, who began his career as a fast bowler before switching to left-arm wrist spin on the suggestion of his coach, feels rhythm and consistency are the key to his success and feels happy with his five-wicket haul against Pakistan, who are a good players of spin.

“I am feeling very happy,” Kuldeep added. “To take five wickets against a good team will always be remembered. When I stop cricket and retire, I will always remember that I took five wickets against Pakistan.”

At the prime age of 28, he is talking about post retirement, the Kanpur-born spinner is just climbing back to the peak of his prowess from the injury. “Just enjoying my bowling. Every morning when I wake up and think that whenever I get the opportunity I stay fit to deliver. All through IPL I have been working hard on my length that matters a lot for any spinner. Not thinking about playing XI and all,” said Kuldeep, who is the only bowler with two hat-tricks in ODIs.