Indian cricket team head coach Ravi Shastri paid one of the biggest compliments to Kuldeep Yadav when he billed him as India’s No. 1 Test spinner when it comes to overseas conditions.
The statement sums up the meteoric rise of the 24-year-old Chinaman bowler from Kanpur, who made his Test debut just a couple of years ago and has only turned out in six matches with the red ball.
A bowling average of 24.12 in Tests and an even more impressive 20.64 in ODIs make Kuldeep a match-winner on almost any surface. No wonder he has become a prize asset for skipper Virat Kohli and will be a potent weapon for India come the 2019 World Cup in England in May.
Kuldeep has now been given a much-deserved break by the selectors from the two T20I games against Australia before he returns to the field for the ODI series. The chinaman bowler spoke exclusively to CricketNext about his successful tour of Australia and New Zealand, interactions with Australian spin-legend Shane Warne and his tuning with the other wrist-spinner in the team, Yuzvendra Chahal.
Excerpts from an exclusive interview…
You have quickly become India’s top spinner overseas. How would you sum up the twin tours of Australia and New Zealand?
The tour was very good, I thought I’ll try to perform for the team whenever I get an opportunity to perform. I bowled quite well in the T20 and ODI games in Australia and New Zealand. I only got chance in the Sydney Test and never though that I’ll be able to give performance like that in the match. The five-wicket haul was a big achievement for me, especially since it came in overseas conditions.
In the ODIs in Australia I played a couple of games and bowled well there. Then in New Zealand, the team wanted to rotate the players since a few young boys had come in. I played till the series was in the bag and helped the team do that. Overall very good tours, both of them.
You got a chance to interact with wrist spinners like Shane Warne and Brad Hogg in Australia. What were the tips you managed to pick up from the two of them?
From the moment I landed in Australia, Shane Warne was there close to the team. Every morning before any match I chatted with Warne and talked about my bowling. He kept motivating me. Coach Ravi Shastri introduced me to Warne on the first day of the tour. He talked to me about the conditions in Australia and how to bowl here. There is bounce here as well.
I met Brad Hogg for coffee in Perth before the match. We discussed a lot about bowling chinaman, bowling over and round the wicket. Most of what he (Hogg) told me was quite helpful.
It is more or less certain that you will be part of the World Cup ODI squad. Have you sought out Warne’s help to get tips on how to bowl in English conditions?
World Cup is too far away for now. I keep speaking to Warne on phone and WhatsApp. He’ll be here for IPL as well so I look forward to talking to him once again. We have a great understanding and it feels great that a legend that you have idolised since childhood is willing to help you out so much — tell you what’s right and wrong. That makes me feel really positive.
I’ll take step-by-step and first try to perform well in the Australia series first.
I want to thank my coach (Kapil Pandey) as well. He has been supporting me even during my tough times. He always told me to follow Warne and I am trying to do that. I keep in regular touch with my coach, calling him every couple of days even on tours. He keeps on giving tips and tells me where I am going wrong.
India won a Test series in Australia after 71 years. What was the atmosphere like in the team after the historic win?
It was a wonderful experience to be part of the winning squad in Australia. We have toured there for so many years without winning a series. We played unbelievable cricket there. There was a wonderful atmosphere, a collective team effort. What we achieved made us feel special and we enjoyed a lot after the series as well.
You have managed to switch between Test and limited-over format effortlessly. How do you prepare for the three formats?
I prepare for red ball and white ball differently. With the red ball I concentrate on different angles, opt for more flight so that I can extract more turn out of the pitch. Also the focus is more on deceiving the batsmen in the air in Test cricket. So I try to prepare myself for that before Test matches. When I was not playing, I was spending long hours in the nets, talking to Ravi sir and Bharath Arun.
In ODIs and T20, I try to practice more variations with the field back. In white ball cricket, the focus is a lot on accuracy as well. However, red ball is more challenging.
Your pairing with Yuzvendra Chahal is being popularly referred as ‘KulCha’ on social media. How is the equation between the two of you on the field?
It is a known fact that bowlers are more successful when they hunt in pairs. It is a great help to me when Chahal is bowling from the other end. Both of us are different types of wrist spinners, so it’s not easy for the opposition batsmen to read us. We feed off the success of each other. Sometimes he gets a rich haul, other times I do. The important thing is that it is great for the team.
You are getting a much-deserved rest for the Australia T20I games. How will you be preparing for the ODI series?
Australia series preparation will be same. I will keep working on my basics. I won’t try anything too different and just stick to the variations that I know best.
Chinaman bowlers are a rare breed. South Africa’s Paul Adams is also very impressed by your performances. How difficult is it to maintain consistency as a chinaman bowler?
Chinaman is a very difficult art and there are not too many bowlers of our kind around. It feels great when some like Paul Adams appreciates the way I have been bowling. You have to practice and work a lot to maintain that accuracy and be successful with all the variations that you use.