ICC World Cup 2019: Turn, turn, turn – A time to make it count

His recent form has been indifferent, but Kuldeep Yadav will still carry an aura when he travels to the World Cup.

His reputation precedes him—that relentless drive to attack; that mesmeric wrong ’un, the ball leaving his fingers almost with a hiss, such is the rev on it—and it leaves batsmen in a state of panic.

“I used to feel like I’m bowling like Shane Warne,” Yadav says, recalling the time when he began learning the art of spin. “I used to try and turn the ball like him.” (Complete coverage of ICC Cricket World Cup 2019)

The emergence of a speedy, incisive and dangerous Indian pace attack may be hogging all the attention, but the team itself will bank equally on its spin strength to carry them forward in the World Cup. It is why India go into the tournament with a trio of spinners—the chess player turned leggie Yuzvendra Chahal, and the experienced Ravindra Jadeja lending support to lead man Yadav. Chahal and Jadeja have the ability to win matches on their own, but opponents know the main danger will come from the chinaman bowler, and the mystique that surrounds his unorthodox style.

If you are deceiving batsmen in the air, or on the drive and the ball is turning, that’s skill,” Yadav says. “If the batsman is unable to pick you, gets bowled or is leg before or stumped regularly, then it’s mystery.”

Last summer in England, Yadav did both skill and mystery; beginning the tour with a five-wicket haul in the first match of the Twenty20 series, running right through the home batting line-up at Old Trafford.

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When the action shifted to the one-dayers, England, the world No 1, again found themselves staring helplessly at Yadav’s sleight of hand. Yadav picked up six batsmen for 25 in the opener at Trent Bridge.

His victims were the who’s who of England’s destructive batting attack: Jonny Bairstow, Joe Root, Jos Buttler, Jason Roy and Ben Stokes, all dancing to his tune.

This is the same batting line-up that had amassed 481 against Australia just a month earlier at the same venue. Yadav restricted them to 268 despite an opening stand of 73.

Yadav became central to the series narrative as the home team got into a huddle to decipher his art. They found the answer in Root. In fact, Root owes Yadav—his spot in the England ODI squad was cemented after his success against Yadav.

Root owes it to Yadav

Until the India series, the Test skipper was in danger of being relegated to the fringes of a limited-overs team that had ascended from the depths on a plan of all-out attack; it was a style of play unsuited to Root’s scholarly batting. Yadav’s impact forced Eoin Morgan’s side to look up to the Test specialist to show the way, to fight unorthodoxy with compact classicism.

Root did that in the second and third games to win his personal battle against Yadav.

The England ODIs showed there are areas of his game where Yadav has to prove himself.

The ability to lift his performance when pitched against better players of spin, or when opponents read his game better, will be his challenge. It will also determine how his career progresses.

When he first came onto the scene, he had on his side the surprise element; now he is much better known, better studied. In England and Wales, he will be up against teams that will be armed with minute data against him, and some of the best players of the turning ball.

His temperament will also be tested, given that he has looked vulnerable in tough situations.

MSD, the spinners’ GPS

This is where MS Dhoni’s role will be crucial. The two have formed a good understanding and the India think-tank is confident Dhoni’s guidance will help Yadav regain his sharpness.

Yadav himself credits Dhoni with lifting the performances of the spinners, orchestrating attacking passaged from behind the stumps. “Even if we are 60%, he (Dhoni) makes up the other 40%,” Yadav says. “It becomes complete.”

That Yadav is not the same force without Dhoni behind the stumps was seen in the last ODI series against Australia in March. With Dhoni rested for the last two ODIs, the visitors ran away with the series by winning both games; Yadav’s return was 1/64 and 1/74.

Those defeats also showed how crucial the performance of spinners in the middle overs is to India’s plan.

As impactful as the pace attack has been, India’s ODI domination is still built on the pressure Yadav and Chahal have applied in the middle overs. Their strike rates speak for that. In 44 ODIs, Yadav has 87 wickets at 26.41 while Chahal has 72 scalps in 41 games at 30.18.

They complement each other, with Chahal helping build the pressure for the attacking Yadav. Chahal doesn’t depend as much on turn or bounce; he works on the batsmen with flight variations and change of angles. The diminutive spinner is hard-as-nails, and unfazed by a batsman’s aggression. He fearlessly flights his deliveries, and accepts the hits if it means it will lead to a wicket.

Weather report

India’s gamble of having an extra spinner in the squad is based on the assessment that it will be a hot, dry summer, like last year. Jadeja, who has a strike rate of 44.07, is in the mix mainly for his ability to exploit the help a surface can provide. Known for his unerring accuracy, the left-arm spinner can be a handful if there’s some bite in the wicket.

India’s spin tactics are likely to differ between the Asian and non-Asian teams. For non-Asian countries, Chahal is expected to partner Yadav. For Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh, the experienced Jadeja will be in the mix.

If the weather stays dry, and India progress through the tournament, Yadav and Chahal will be eyeing the cracks with delight.

First Published:
May 21, 2019 09:14 IST

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