The past few years have witnessed the rise of several promising young Indian spinners. However, one spinner who has seen his national team prospects diminish during the same time frame is 26-year-old left-arm Chinaman, Kuldeep Yadav.
Lest we forget that this is the same Kuldeep who first drew attention through his hat-trick heroics in the 2014 Under-19 World Cup before bursting onto the scene in India’s 2017 Test series against Australia.
Kuldeep’s early days with the senior team saw him enjoy plenty of success and one glance at his numbers reveal that he’s capable of contributing to the cause. That said, the left-arm wrist spinner has been far from his best in the recent past and has played just one Test and two ODIs over the last six months.
Interestingly, Kuldeep's dip in performances has coincided with former Indian skipper MS Dhoni’s retirement from international cricket. And that fact hasn’t been lost on the 26-year-old spinner who admitted that he does indeed miss having the guidance of Dhoni from behind the stumps.
Dhoni’s influence on young Kuldeep
“Sometimes I miss that guidance because he (Mahi) has great experience,” Kuldeep told the Indian Express. “He used to guide us behind the wicket, kept screaming! We miss his experience. When Mahi bhai was there, I and Chahal were playing. Ever since Mahibhai left, Chahal and I haven’t played together. I played only a handful of games after Mahi bhai left.”
The Chinaman bowler made his ODI debut in June 2017 and was fortunate to be in the company of master strategist Dhoni. The World Cup winning captain’s presence behind the stumps has aided several bowlers in the past and Kuldeep isn’t any different.
As Kuldeep mentions, his opportunities have been limited with the national team ever since Dhoni’s departure and his loss of form and confidence was never more apparent than in the recent second Chennai Test against England, where he picked up only two wickets on a turning track.
Recent struggles with form and confidence
His lack of form also ended in the Kolkata team dropping him during the Indian T20 League this summer. The move came after a poor show in the 2020 edition, where Kuldeep managed only one wicket in five games at an average of 92.00.
At the moment, Kuldeep appears to be struggling for form as well as confidence and the only way to get back to his best isn’t by bowling in the nets, but by playing matches too at a competitive level.
Playing consistently at that level though is proving to be difficult for Kuldeep. Not only has he struggled for gametime in the Indian T20 League, Kuldeep isn’t a part of India’s touring party for the World Test Championship (WTC) or the Test series against England.
In his present predicament, playing consistently is the bare minimum and perhaps a move away from the Kolkata Team in the Indian T20 League can help him in that regard.
Moving to Chennai could revive his career
And what better place to go than Team Chennai which has proved to be a haven for India’s spinners. The likes of Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja plied their trade for most of their careers with the three-time Indian T20 League winners. Jadeja even played his way back into the national team after being dropped in 2017 courtesy strong performances for the franchise.
A reunion with Dhoni at Team Chennai is another prospect that Kuldeep will be relishing. Furthermore, the south-India based franchise also has a history of investing in supposedly spent forces.
The likes of Harbhajan Singh and Karn Sharma in the past can attest for the same. Not surprisingly, given Chennai’s rich spin tradition and culture, they too delivered. Back in 2020, Sharma also mentioned how a relaxed atmosphere in the Chennai dressing room makes life easy for the players.
We even witnessed how Australian spinner Adam Zampa discovered himself with Dhoni behind the stamps. Only after his success in the 2016 and 2017 edition of the Indian T20 league did the leggie become a permanent fixture in the Australian limited-overs setup.
Then there’s 42-year-old Imran Tahir, who has been enjoying his time in yellow. The South African leggie might not be featuring in every game for Chennai, but has risen to the occasion whenever called upon.
Chennai also got the best out of England’s Moeen Ali with the ball during the now postponed Indian T20 league. The off-spinner who once struggled with Bangalore in the past has suddenly become a wicket-taking option for Chennai.
Given Chennai and Dhoni’s propensity to work well with spinners, and turn them into match-winners, Kuldeep could find the key to unlocking his mojo again with a move down south.
While a trade in the coming months looks unlikely, the spinner can look forward to getting absorbed by the franchise ahead of the 2022 edition. If the move manifests, Kuldeep will not only benefit from Chennai’s culture of harnessing spinners but more importantly, he will be blessed to once again operate under the watchful eyes of Dhoni.
Kuldeep is only 26, with time on his side. Many have benefited in the recent past from a stint with Dhoni and Chennai, and Kuldeep too deserves a shot. For it will be a pity otherwise to see a talented spinner disappearing into the wilderness.
Featured photo: AFP / Dibyangshu Sarkar