CHENNAI: These are gloomy days for Sri Lankan cricket. There are plenty of structural issues plaguing the game in the island nation, and it doesn’t help that they won’t be able to put their best XI on the park in this series due to a combination of Covid cases, Covid-related punishments and an ongoing pay dispute with the board. None of that will matter to Kuldeep Yadav though. The left-arm wrist-spinner took two key wickets in his nine overs in the first ODI on Sunday and gave away only 48 runs in a spell that should reinstate some of his lost confidence.
It was roughly two years ago that his downfall began. Along with leggie Yuzvendra Chahal, he had entered the 2019 World Cup in England as one of India’s main strike weapons given the ability to make inroads in the middle overs. But both of them were unable to exert their influence during the World Cup, with a game against England at Edgbaston proving to have significant ramifications in the team management’s assessment of the pair. Kuldeep, in particular, has suffered a sharp dip in fortunes since then and repeatedly fallen out of favour.
Against Sri Lanka at the R Premadasa Stadium in Colombo on Sunday, the pair – christened ‘KulCha’ – was reunited for the first time in ODI cricket since that World Cup. Kuldeep was able to make the most of coming up against a weakened Sri Lankan batting line-up. Sri Lanka were actually going along nicely after opting to bat first, moving to 85/1 after 16 overs. But Kuldeep struck twice in four balls in his third over to change the complexion of the game.
The first of those was down to poor execution from debutant left-hander Bhanuka Rajapaksa, who miscued a pull off a short delivery and squandered his blazing start. Three balls later, Kuldeep tossed one up and induced a false drive from Minod Bhanuka, which was safely pouched by Prithvi Shaw at first slip. Sri Lanka were 3-down in a blink and had to cautiously rebuild from thereon.
While there were some loose balls on offer too and no discernible change in the way he went about his bowling, just the currency of wickets under his belt – even if against opponents that were below par – should help Kuldeep going forward. The surface was taking some turn and offering encouragement to the spinners and will continue to do so in the remaining matches considering that the entire series is being played at one venue.
“There was help in the pitch. It was taking turn. I was varying my pace depending on the batsman. I was not giving them time to adjust. I was flighting the ball at times and bowling quicker on other occasions,” Kuldeep said after India’s seven-wicket victory.
Chahal was equally effective on the day, taking 2/52 from his full quota of 10 overs. In the process, the pair justified skipper Dhawan’s backing on the eve of the game. With the team having as many as five spinners to choose from, entrusting Chahal and Kuldeep with the responsibility wasn’t a straightforward decision after all.
“The goal for us is to win the series. We will pick the best playing XI. We will play the spinners who we feel will do the best. There is no line of thinking that we should give chances to all the spinners,” Dhawan had said on Saturday.
Of course, there will be sterner challenges and opponents to come as India fine-tune their preparations for the T20 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in October-November. But the two wickets on Sunday were a good first step in Kuldeep’s quest to reclaim his spot even when India’s strongest side is available.