A combined haul of 36 wickets from 19 matches. Best spinners on view. Purple cap holders or contenders. Confidence regained, dominance restored. For Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal, IPL 2022 has already given multiple reasons to rejoice.
Shunned by their respective franchises at this year’s mega auction, Kul-Cha, as they are popularly called, have served a reminder of their class and temperament. Chahal, with 19 wickets from 10 games for Rajasthan Royals, is on course to surpass his most successful IPL haul (23 wickets in 2015), while Delhi Capitals’ Kuldeep, who was not picked for a single match by Kolkata Knight Riders last season after claiming one wicket in four matches in IPL 2020, too is scripting redemption.
The left-arm wrist-spinner has taken 17 wickets in nine matches, making it his most productive IPL season. He took 17 scalps in 2018 too, but from 16 matches. This year, both Kuldeep and Chahal have rediscovered their touch. They haven’t shied from bowling attacking lines and have consistently prised out top-order batters, even beating them on defence.
Often criticised for bowling too slow through the air, Kuldeep added pace to his stock deliveries by making subtle changes to his action in the off-season, playing 40-over matches where he had to bowl eight overs.
Kapil Pandey, Kuldeep’s personal coach who guided him through that re-building phase after he underwent knee surgery, explained: “Legs are as important to a spinner as fingers or wrist. He runs in a lot faster now, which contributes to the pace. He practiced a lot on pitching balls in the good length area, varying the trajectory while hitting the same spot and making very subtle changes in length to beat the batter in the air. We know a lot of batters look to line up a spinner from that length, but if you have skills, you’ll get wickets from attacking lengths.”
Another criticism of Kuldeep has been that his non-bowling arm goes too wide and falls early. The arm is now a lot more stable and balances the body better. “Around 2016, he bowled with an angular approach as his non-bowling arm was not able to offer the desired balance with a conventional run-up. That problem has been addressed to a great degree,” Pandey said.
Former India left-arm orthodox spinner Murali Kartik says Kuldeep still needs to put a lot more body into his action. “His trail leg (back leg) lags behind, which means he is still not a ‘body bowler’. You may think you are putting in a lot of effort and revolutions, but a part of your body is always holding you back. He has worked extremely hard on that aspect and the results are showing.
“There was criticism of him bowling too slow, but I feel the real issue was him not varying his pace that much. That made him predictable. Now, not only does he have the skills to vary the pace, he also has the confidence to flight the ball and get hit.
“One of the most important things a spinner does is gamble—when can I throw the ball up? When can I tempt the batter? When can I not mind being hit? As a spinner, especially in T20s, you should know when to spar with the batter. That instinct comes with confidence. Conversely, when you are not sure of your skills, you tend to think negatively and it then starts reflecting in your performance,” Kartik says.
Rediscovering drift has played a pivotal role in Chahal’s success this IPL, he says. “Spin bowling is a lot about confidence. Look at the way Chahal bounced back against KKR where he took a hat-trick after getting hit. He could do it because he never stopped attacking, which is a function of confidence.
“Chahal wasn’t bowling particularly bad (before IPL), but once he starts getting small bits of his action right, he gets that drift. He always had turn and control, but his greatest ornament is his drift, which happens when you put a lot of body and revolutions in your action.”
The T20 World Cup will be played in Australia in October-November. Hard and bouncy wickets there usually favour wrist spinners and the pair is making a strong case for selection. For two years after the 2017 ICC Champions Trophy, they featured together in 50-over matches, before being dropped. They played only 10 T20Is together, the last in July 2018.
“A lot depends on Hardik Pandya’s bowling fitness, which will allow the skipper to play an extra wrist spinner,” Kartik says. “But Kul-Cha has certainly staked a claim.”