Narendra Hirwani, former India leggie and Kuldeep’s mentor, reckons the latter has to be smarter with his lengths and show the mindset to attack the batsman. BCCI
There were two visuals of Kuldeep Yadav that stood out from the first ODI against Australia where he initially caused a few problems, with the leading edges not going to hand, before the batsmen got on top of him and he eventually finished wicket-less with 55 runs taken off his 10 overs. After a promising start, some old flaws had crept and thrown up the two imageries – of Kuldeep being a touch short to David Warner, and occasionally a bit too full to Aaron Finch.
The quick-on-trigger assessment would be that he is using too much shoulder, that he isn’t quick enough, that he isn’t finishing his action properly or some issue with the loading or the pivot – but all that seemed pretty fine.
And, so one turns to Narendra Hirwani, a former leg-spinner and the current spin coach of National Cricket Academy. “Have you bowled with a wet tennis ball on a cement pitch, and seen the nishaan, its mark, on the track?
“Bowl and watch it next time. When the trajectory of your flight is lower, the mark would be less. When you rip and flight it a touch higher, the mark would be larger. Then the ball starts to do tricks!” Hirwani says.
Somehow, the talk about Kuldeep had veered to the wetness and surface area of its impact. And it’s not even the stereotypical ‘he-should-flight-it-more’ suggestion that Hirwani is making. “The matter is deeper than that!”
Why were the couple of sixes that Finch hit, without leaving his crease, make it seem that it was a touch too full? “Couple of them were googlies, right?” Hirwani says. “Here is the thing with the googly: if you don’t rip it a lot, put a lot of revolutions on the ball, because of the googly’s upturned-palm action, the ball would float that bit more, that bit fuller.”
Why did the balls to Warner seem a touch shorter? “Yes, they were a bit, but it’s also because of Warner. He is a short compact batsman with very quick movements; for a length to which other batsmen lean forward, he quickly goes for the cut. But, considering Kuldeep’s stock ball is effectively a leg-break to a left-hander, he can bowl it a touch fuller, to make him drive.”
Overall, Hirwani says he didn’t see any major issues with Kuldeep’s bowling. “I didn’t see any glaring weakness where he has to go and work for months. There is the need to be a bit smarter with his lengths, a mindset to attack more, and a few tweaks.”
Over the last year, though he has been out of the team, Kuldeep was a constant sight on training days and even mid-match, during session breaks in Tests or ODIs, bowling on the field. The Indian team management wanted to keep him in the loop, was willing to invest time and money on him.
The think tank had felt that he was getting a tad predictable—it was obvious, they felt, when he tried to rip the ball quicker or try to slip it slower. It was felt that the effort to bowl quicker was coming more from the shoulder. For a few months now, Kuldeep has been trying to cloak that variation in speed by ironing out his arm-speed and load-up rather than signalling the increase in pace from the shoulder.
He has also been working on his fitness a lot. The thinking was that because of his physique, it was difficult for him to rip the ball quicker in the air, but if he got fitter, he can use it in his bowling – endurance, arm-speed and the works. It was important for him to find his natural speed but with increased fitness, it was believed that it would work as an advantage, and he could bowl quicker through his action.
As one of Kuldeep’s mentors Brad Hogg —they had met in the IPL—used to say, “Shane Warne was brilliant with his arm-speed and shoulder strength, despite that slow-walk-run-up as he had a very good core. Sometimes, the other spinners don’t have that core strength,” he once told this newspaper.
All that work in the past year is what probably makes Hirwani feel that there is “not much weakness” in Kuldeep’s bowling. Though, he does believe, it’s time for some tweaks, mental and physical.
“You see his old videos, the ball would dip a lot more,” Hirwani says. “His strength is spin and dip – his speed is normal, not too slow, not quick.”
Hirwani believes the dip has suffered because of the trajectory. “It’s not as if he is bowling too flat or pushing it through, but the height is less than what it used to be. When the height is less and the speed is less, there isn’t much bite. This combination also affects the length and results in dropping short. If you are really quick through the air, even if the ball isn’t flighted high, it will carry on fuller.
“Kuldeep’s best bet is to concentrate on the extent of spin and dip. I am not talking like some old-timer – flight it high, but just over the eye-line. And also not every ball. Let him keep varying it but there should be enough of such balls in the spell.”
Something similar to the ball he bowled to clean up Babar Azam at the World Cup. “What was best about it? It wasn’t as if he tossed it too high, but there was enough and more importantly, the drift, the dip, and the turn. That’s what he continues to do and I am sure he will,” Hirwani says.
Sometimes, because of the nature of the tracks, it isn’t easy to get that kind of turn and Hirwani believes that on good tracks, the spinner needs to turn just that little bit. “The bat is 4.25 inches wide. On flat tracks, you need to make the batsman feel he is batting with a 3-inch bat. Basically, try to make him mistime the shot. Not the dream ball where you're going to beat him completely, but if you can turn it enough, and make him mistime – not connect from the sweet spot, you will have done your job.”
The spinner's gambit on flat tracks is to sow doubt in the batsman's mind and restrict his movements. “If you can keep varying your pace and trajectory, and get enough revolutions on the ball, the batsmen can have the doubt what the next ball would do. There can be a little delay in his reaction – just a little bit as these are all very good batsmen - but that slight delay can work. The batsman tries to kill the turn but if there is doubt, his movements would be a little slower and that fraction of a second is the key for a spinner.”
Then there are the minor tweaks depending on the batsmen. “For Finch, who is tall and likes to swing from the crease, you draw back the length just a bit – not short but to make him stretch and doubt whether he could connect cleanly if he just swings through the line. For Warner, a little fuller. Kuldeep is a good bowler, he knows all this. Just that when the mind is clear and confident, all this flows naturally.”
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