In a cricketing world where bowlers get pulped by the pounding bat, to bowl slow, throw the ball in the air and expect not to be hit out of the ground would be considered a foolish enterprise. Many have perished in their endeavour to pursue a craft that over the years is now eulogised more in memory than in practice. The classical spinner, whose traditions were preserved and strengthened by the likes of Bishan Singh Bedi and Erapalli Prasanna, has been long dead. It was getting each day buried deeper and deeper in the sands of time where even nostalgia was not enough to recover it.
This pessimistic epitaph to the glorious past has its exceptions, where a genius like Shane Warne or a Muttiah Muralidharan, has provided an antidote to the brutalization of the spinner. In our immediate present, even that rarity did not appear possible, till Kuldeep Yadav made his appearance. His “puppet on a string” control, where he can hang the ball in the air for that fraction of a second more at the slowest possible speed, has given a new dimension and meaning to this England-India series. A left-arm wrist spinner may have been a rarity in the history of the game, but there have been enough supreme, sublime traditional purveyors of flight and deception of this classical form which has no place today in the kind of contrived run-making machine the game has become, especially after the advent of the T-20 format.
How did this miracle take place? It has its genesis at a coaching centre in Kanpur, a dusty, congested industrial town of Uttar Pradesh. Much to Yadav’s dislike, he was told by the coach of that centre, Kapil Pandey, a former Services cricketer, to bowl spin instead of fast as Pandey felt “he is too frail and small in size to bowl fast.” Yadav, in complete disagreement, bowled “chinaman” thinking the coach would get the hint. Pandey says he did realize Yadav was upset, but insisted he bowl this delivery again. Yadav repeated it twice more and was told that “from now onward you will keep on bowling like this in my centre.”
Yadav would continue bowling medium pace whenever the coach was not present at the centre, but immediately shift to spin in his presence. “After a few days, he got a batsman out stumped with his spin and all of a sudden he felt curious and wanted to learn more,” says Kapil, who played for Services as a vice-captain in the nineties in the Ranji Trophy.
Thus began a journey more than a decade and a half earlier, that has today culminated into something really exciting, thrilling and a possible precursor to an exceptional career. His control over the spinning ball, “rotation, line and length” as Pandey puts it, even while he throws the ball innocuously in the air, is a mystery batsmen are still to figure out. Even before he decides to play or not to play, he has already entangled himself in a web of confusion from where there is no escape.
Yadav, when he was first picked for India in a Test series, was unnerved while bowling in the nets. He felt he was bowling too slow in comparison to other spinners. His coach told him to have faith in his abilities and not forget that success with the same bowling style for the under-19 team and in the Ranji Trophy had got him a place in the Indian team. By sticking to his strengths, Yadav is breaking many stereotypes and creating a new path, which even after his phenomenal initial success still remains in the realms of disbelief. Is this man for real? Let the future tell its own story.
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