“Had he been playing for some other country, he would have now had at least 50 Tests and 200 wickets” – Kuldeep Yadav’s coach

Kuldeep Yadav during a nets session in Australia last month

Kuldeep Yadav has taken 40 wickets at a strike-rate of 22.4 from 45 IPL matches

Kuldeep Yadav represented India A in the first tour game against Australia A in December

January 6, 2019. A certain Kuldeep Yadav led the Indian team off the Sydney Cricket Ground, acknowledging the crowd with the Kookaburra ball with which he completed his second five-wicket haul in Tests. A follow-on was enforced on Australia at home for the first time since 1988.

The then 24-year-old left-arm leg-spinner returned figures of 5/99 as Tim Paine’s boys were bundled out for 300, still 322 runs adrift of India’s first innings score. Since that historic day in Indian cricket, the team has played 13 Tests encompassing five series – three at home and two overseas. But Kuldeep Yadav hasn’t played a single match, despite travelling with the team.

Into their 14th Test, India are struggling at home against England, requiring 381 runs to chase down on the final day with nine wickets in hand. This was after conceding a first innings trail of 241 runs. Not only have the hosts been outplayed by Joe Root and Co. with the bat, but England’s spinners have also accounted for more wickets than India’s in their respective first innings.

Most experts and fans have voiced opinions about how a wrist spinner could have gotten more purchase off a pitch which was rather sedate on the first three days. Similarly, in an exclusive interview with Sportskeeda, Kapil Pandey – Kuldeep Yadav’s coach for the past 17 years – attributed India’s poor showing with the ball to the inexperience of their bowling unit.

“These players are not able to extract spin off the surface because they are just one or two Tests old, we can’t blame them. I am in coaching for the past 20 years, I have never seen players making the playing XI overnight. And Kuldeep Yadav is continuously travelling with them, suffering, yet they are not giving him a chance. There goes a proverb as ‘Ghar ki murgi daal barabar’ – so you are not trying to understanding him, you are not looking at his numbers, you are treating him like a normal cricketer.”

In the recently-concluded Australia tour, India were rocked by injuries to key players throughout the four-Test series. The management handed debuts to five youngsters, while a 26-year-old Kuldeep Yadav continued to warm the benches. While Kapil Pandey stayed content with the choices Down Under, he failed to comprehend the reason behind Kuldeep Yadav’s exclusion from the ongoing Chennai Test.

“In this series, the coach and captain played Washington Sundar because they felt he will partner Ravichandran Ashwin better. Only they know the reason behind this selection. Virat Kohli can dissect this logic, head coach Ravi Shastri also can explain it. But I feel Kuldeep Yadav is a bowler who can be played in any match, and should be played in any match. Because he is someone who has 24 wickets from 6 Tests, and has never taken less than four wickets in domestic cricket.”

On his Test debut in Brisbane, 21-year-old Washington Sundar drew accolades from the world over for producing a match-haul of 84 runs (62 and 22) and 4 wickets (3 for 89 and 1 for 80). With star all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja still nursing his fractured left thumb, Axar Patel was included for the first two Tests versus England.

However, with even Patel ruled out of the opening fixture owing to a knee injury in the eleventh hour, India included another left-arm orthodox in Shahbaz Nadeem, who was initially part of the larger group as a net bowler.

“Since the team management has not been giving Kuldeep Yadav a chance for a long time, pressure will automatically mount on him. Everybody should be given equal chance, Washington Sundar is being given chances to prove himself, [Shahbaz] Nadeem has been given two chances, so why not Kuldeep Yadav? He has taken five wickets in his last Test innings in Australia, shouldn’t he be given a chance?

“If he slightly underperforms even in one match, they sideline him. On the other hand, rest of the players are given so many chances. You are including the player who is not in the team, who hasn’t got preparation. Where is the greatness of the captain and coach? The player who has been regularly practising with the team is not getting a chance. Imagine how happy the coach of Nadeem would be thinking his pupil has earned a place without doing anything.”

For those who are thinking Washington Sundar merits a place on account of being the better all-rounder, they shouldn’t forget Kuldeep Yadav has one century and six fifties in first-class cricket, when compared to Sundar’s one and four respectively.

India played eight T20Is and six ODIs across the New Zealand tour in January-February and Australia tour in November-December last year. Kuldeep Yadav – once an integral part of the so-called ‘Kulcha’ partnership with Yuzvendra Chahal – featured in just a solitary ODI on each of the two sojourns. While his 2/84 came in a lost cause in Hamilton, the 1/57 in Canberra was during the sole ODI India managed to win Down Under.

It is hard to break into the Indian team. And it is even harder to make the elite grade, prove your worth and yet sit out time and again. But overcoming such hurdles can be comparatively easier if you have your loved ones by your side. And undoubtedly, Kapil Pandey has constantly been in touch with his ward.

“I am regularly in touch with Kuldeep Yadav. I have been coaching him for the past 17 years, we are very tight, we keep sharing things. When I asked him not to worry, he said – ‘Sir, I have become very mature now. I have now gotten used to dealing with these things [rejections].’ So he is self-motivated, and I feel every player has to go through a similar patch to achieve greatness.

“I have been telling him for the past 17 years and to all the kids in my academy that – ‘Cricket is not a day’s game, it is a game of 100 days. If you have a bad, don’t worry because your fortunes will change tomorrow, the same player who smashes a hundred also gets out for a duck.’ So I have now told him not to worry and try to make the most of the upcoming opportunities.”

Kuldeep Yadav’s USP is the flight and dip with which he bowls both his stock delivery and googly. It is the guile which has helped him become the lone Indian to take two international hat-tricks – against Australia in 2017 and the West Indies in 2019.

Notably, he first shot to fame after claiming a hat-trick against Scotland at the 2014 U-19 World Cup. The Uttar Pradesh lad also holds the unique distinction of being only the third spinner after Ajantha Mendis and Imran Tahir to claim a fifer in all three formats.

However, the cricketing fraternity has suddenly seemed to have forgotten all of Kuldeep Yadav’s achievements. There have been increasing talks of the need to bowl quicker through the air, and hence a possible justification of his oust from the Indian team. Kuldeep Yadav took all these brickbats as constructive criticism, made subtle changes to his action, picked up pace and worked on his accuracy throughout the lockdown last year.

“We have trained during the lockdown, and his speed has increased, he has taken so many wickets including two hat-tricks, so I don’t understand why is he still finding himself out of favour. I need to ask the team management when has Kuldeep Yadav performed badly, which Test match has he gone wicketless, in which ODI has he failed to make an impact. Even in the recent ODI he played in Australia, he gave away very few runs and picked up a wicket.

“So there’s no lack in his skillset, we’re working to improve on top of it, he has picked up pace. Errors are a part and parcel of any player, but there isn’t any question of errors here. He hasn’t gotten an opportunity, so where are you finding errors in him?

“You can’t find a single match where he has performed badly, there’s no hiding this fact. His balls are dancing on the pitch. We have worked together on his chinaman and googly during the lockdown, to strive for accuracy and not concede extra runs. And we will keep working on it till the time he plays cricket. ‘Nahin khilane ke toh 50 bahaanein hai, baki khilane ke toh 100 raastein hai’.”

Even though he made his India debut in March 2017, Kuldeep Yadav became a household name only after IPL 2017 in which he scalped 12 wickets in as many matches to power KKR into the playoffs. He bettered his tally in the following edition, picking 17 wickets at a strike-rate of 18.11 from 16 games. Quite surprisingly, however, he played just 14 matches across IPL 2019 and 2020.

Notably, Kuldeep admitted he had a poor run in IPL 2019, further adding that he felt he was hard done by after playing just five matches in IPL 2020. His coach was frustrated looking at the Kolkata-based side regularly fielding domestic players, while rendering an international player on the bench.

So much so that Pandey has even expressed the need to quash the retaining powers of IPL sides, thus facilitating Kuldeep Yadav’s move to a different franchise. January 20 was the day for all the eight sides to announce their released players ahead of the IPL 2021 auction on February 18, and Kuldeep Yadav found himself amiss from another KKR sheet.

“There are so many bowlers getting hit for runs in T20 cricket but still retaining their places in the playing XI. But here, in the case of Kuldeep Yadav, domestic players are being given chances but an India player is being made to warm the bench. There should be an end to all this, and I believe that end can be brought about through hardwork.

“I am sure Kuldeep Yadav has had a word with the KKR management. The team management doesn’t want to release him, but you can’t fight them because they have that right. Even I told him that if he leaves KKR, he will surely get to play matches for other franchises. I believe the power to retain players should be removed from the IPL, players should be allowed to leave if they want to. Media should take this issue forward to prevent careers of many cricketers being destroyed.”

Rohit Sharma had a blistering start to his Test career in 2013, notching up scores of 177 and 111* against the West Indies in Kolkata and Mumbai respectively. But he couldn’t get to another three-figure score in the next two years, which led to hi, playing just 11 Tests across 2016, 2017 and 2018.

Rohit, however, has been regularly finding a place at the top of the order in India’s red-ball setup now, since amassing 529 runs at an average of 132.25 as opener in the three-Test series against South Africa at home in 2019. Kapil Pandey wants Kuldeep Yadav to draw inspiration from Rohit Sharma and have similar perseverance.

“I have asked Kuldeep to have the same level of patience as Rohit Sharma. Rohit Sharma was omitted all these years before he came back and hit a double hundred, and has now cemented his place in the playing XI. While Kuldeep Yadav used to be one of the key components in India’s spin department, the inclusion of Ravindra Jadeja leaves just a solitary place for all the other spinners.

“Now I am feeling bad because neither Jadeja is fit nor are India playing overseas. Had Kuldeep Yadav been playing for some other country, he would have had at least 50 Tests and 200 wickets under his belt now. But the thing is he is playing in India where anything anywhere is justified. If there can be a farmer’s protest, there can be unrest anywhere in the country.”

Even if India manage to chase down 420 in the fourth innings of the 1st Test against England, the frequent no-balls and erring in line and length by the spinners have come under the scanner. One might think this would demand the team management to include Kuldeep Yadav for the next Test, which is scheduled to start on February 13 at the same venue.

And if he indeed gets the nod and follows all the advice of his coach – including that of making the most of the given opportunity – there won’t be a prouder Indian than Kapil Pandey.

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