In December, Kuldeep Yadav bagged the Player-of-the-Match award for his five-for in the only Test he played in the series in Bangladesh. He followed it up with match-winning spells in ODI series at home against Sri Lanka and New Zealand, and forced his way into the India squad for the first two Tests against Australia, starting in Nagpur next week. While Kuldeep has found his mojo again, his good friend and spin twin, Yuzvendra Chahal, seems to have lost his. Once a constant in the limited-overs bowling attacks, Chahal, who became India's leading wicket-taker in T20Is on Sunday, has for a while now struggled with his bowling rhythm, technique and confidence, which has forced the team management to bench him often.
Former India left-am spinner Sunil Joshi, who was part of the Indian selection panel between 2020 and 2022, has followed both Kuldeep and Chahal's careers closely. In the following chat, Joshi breaks down their techniques, explains what makes them effective or not, and makes his pick for the World Cup squad.
Recently in Bangladesh, Kuldeep Yadav was the Player of the Match in Chattogram. And he had impressive performances in ODIs against Sri Lanka and New Zealand. What is making him so effective?
A couple of things Kuldeep has really worked hard on. I have closely watched him since my time as coach at Uttar Pradesh, where he played a few games during the 2019-20 season after he was dropped from the Indian side.
I saw Kuldeep closely in the [2020-21] England series, during the Chennai Test matches: his body was much more open-chested and his [right] hand was falling away from the point of target. Your non-bowling arm should follow towards the batsman, and your bowling hand should be as close as possible to the head. If you imagine a clock, your bowling arm should come from just before 12; if it comes from 1 o'clock, then the trajectory will be flatter. If your non-bowling arm is straight, automatically your bowling hand will get closer to the head. That is another adjustment Kuldeep has done.
He has worked on the arm speed, which was a bit slower. You can now see the spring in his bowling run-up. He has ensured the run-up has become smoother, more consistent, the arm speed is good. His body is going towards the batsman in the follow-through, and the line of attack he is bowling [has got better]. There are more revolutions on the ball.
A classic example [of all this coming together] is the wicket of Dasun Shanaka [in the Kolkata and Thiruvananthapuram ODIs earlier this month] - the way he bowled him, that's the line we've been discussing time and again with Kuldeep and he understood that's what is required.
He varies [how he uses] the crease as well. Earlier he was bowling close to the middle of the crease. Now he bowls wider, from the middle, and from close to the stumps as well. As a left-arm wristspinner, every time you bowl away from the crease, especially to a right-hander, if you don't get the line right, it is going to be difficult. When you go close to the stumps, you end up bowling middle-and-leg. It's a perfect angle where you can go close to the stumps and take the ball away from the left-hander. For bowling a right-hander, the perfect video, I would say, is [to watch] the Dasun Shanaka wicket in Thiruvananthapuram, where Kuldeep got him through the gap between bat and pad.
Would you say he has become smarter and more consistent?
You have to give him credit. He's really worked hard and understood what is required. And he has followed up with domestic matches. He played against New Zealand A [for India A in one Test and three ODIs]. He did well, he got wickets.
The bigger talking point about Kuldeep's increased consistency, which some former players have pointed out, is his delivery speed.
I always say that anything between 70 and 85kph is a good speed for spinners to bowl. The quicker you bowl through the air, the easier it is for a batsman to get into line. When the bowler becomes slower, when he varies [his speed], starts spinning, that's where the batsman has to use his brain to come to the pitch of the ball, use his technique and time the ball.
Kuldeep has really worked on his speed - I think it is now between 75kph and late 80s. He doesn't bowl quicker than that. The more revolutions you put on the ball, automatically, after pitching, it will skid through.
Former India head coach Ravi Shastri believes it's Kuldeep's work on his hip flexion and lower-body strength that has helped him impart revs like that. Do you agree?
That will happen only when he has worked on his delivery stride as well. That is why it's much easier to transfer your body weight towards the target - when everything gets side-on, automatically you transfer your body weight [well] and your hip drive will become much better.
Rhythm consists of three parts: run-up, delivery stride and follow-through. If one of these is missed, the bowler will be in an uncomfortable position. If you run too quick, everything, including the action, happens too quickly and the trajectory is flatter. If you run too slow, everything will be slow - there will be less revs on the ball and the batsman has enough time to go back or forward. If you don't finish your follow-through, you end up bowling short. Kuldeep is short, so he cannot have a longer stride as a spinner, because automatically you collapse and are unable to transfer body weight towards the batter and derive the right speed from your hip drive. For a spinner, your delivery stride is your shoulder width - that's an ideal length.
That is what we can see in Kuldeep now: transfer of body weight, the hip drive, as Ravi has said, and of course, the arm speed, the front arm, and revolutions on the ball. Plus, he's enjoying whatever subtle changes he has added into his bowling armoury and it is giving him results.
What is the one area in which you want him to continue to improve?
Probably at times he can bowl round the stumps to the left-handers, because that is a blind spot [for the batter]. If Kuldeep comes round the stumps, the batsman may think that he's going to take the ball away, but he doesn't. If you saw yesterday [in the Hyderabad ODI against New Zealand], the way he got Henry Nicholls bowled, that's a classic delivery. He also got Daryl Mitchell lbw. And Dasun Shanaka - fully stretched forward defence, through the gate, bowled.
He is achieving this with consistent lengths. He is probably in a phase now where he can pick up wickets at any point of time and create pressure. In white-ball cricket you have to create pressure, you have to play on the batsman's mind. Like, in Hyderabad, we saw Mitchell Santner getting Virat Kohli bowled - Virat could have played forward.
In Test cricket, because of the quality that R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Axar Patel bring to the table, Kuldeep is fourth in the queue. But he has shown that each time he gets called up, he can create an impact. He has been picked for the first two Tests at home against Australia in February. Do you think he will play a big role in the Border-Gavaskar Trophy?
I think so. One, because of his form - he's been good in picking wickets. As a former cricketer, I look more closely at the way he is taking wickets: a spinner getting [the batter] out through the gate bowled, caught at slip, stumped getting to the pitch of the ball, miscuing the ball and getting caught at mid-off, mid-on. These are the areas of dismissal that a spinner would love to take.
Looking at the Australian Test squad and the venues, where do you reckon Kuldeep will actually have an advantage?
If Ashwin is our first option, and if Jadeja is not available, then it should Kuldeep and Axar. If Jaddu is available and they are playing three spinners, Kuldeep should play. Don't look at the venues or whether our spinners will do well or not at them. Look at the way Kuldeep has picked up wickets. In whatever series he has played recently, whether it is red- or white-ball, his dismissals are in the range of [being caught] within the 30-yard circle. That is a great thing for a bowler because it shows you have been very consistent with your line and length. If India have to win against Australia, Kuldeep will play a major part.
Let's talk about Yuzvendra Chahal - has he become more predictable?
Over a period any bowler will go through that phase. Probably Chahal is in that phase. Someone like Chahal, who is not able to get game time in the middle, probably he should request the team management to go and play domestic cricket. Match time is very important for him to get back into form. That should be the ideal preparation for Chahal.
In terms of technique, is there something he can work on?
He can really look to finish his follow-through, because at times he just pushes the ball [without imparting spin]. When you slow your arm, automatically there are less revolutions on the ball and it's much easier for a batsman to pick him up. Why any spinner will get predictable is because the batsman will know that: "Okay, he's doing only this [releasing the ball without spin], or probably he will go outside the off stump, so if I leave that ball, he will again come back into the stumps [line]" - which is the batsman's strength.
Chahal needs to focus more on his follow-through, hitting the right length, which is the fourth-stump line, putting more effort into his arm speed, and spinning the ball. Most important is spinning the ball. At times I have seen in the last few series, he really got hit because he was pushing the ball - the seam revolutions were flatter, there was no overspin. For any fingerspinner the wrist has to move over the top of the seam, and if it goes side ways, then the spinner will be undercutting the ball.
Chahal is an attacking spinner. Somehow he lost his mojo…
He was an attacking spinner. Was.
Everyone gets a little cushioning - okay, theek hai, I've done well now, let me relax a bit. Suddenly by the time you realise that, the pressure is on you.
When Chahal bowls the fourth-stump line, batters start attacking him.
Ideally, every ball should be on the fourth-stump line. Most of the googlies he bowls are from the middle stump. You can't bowl a googly from the middle stump. Where did Anil [Kumble] bowl his googlies from? Fifth stump. That is where you drag a batsman to get through the bat-pad gap. You have seen how many times Virat Kohli get out to a legspinner in the last so many IPLs? Did he get out [to a googly] from a middle-stump line? No. Fifth-stump line.
I follow the three-T formula: technique, tactics and temperament. You have a technique, you play for the country. But you also need to focus on temperamental and tactical parts. That is where you fox a batsman.
Does Chahal need to work on his bowling speed?
More than the speed, he pushes the ball inside. You cannot [do that]. As a genuine spinner you have to get on the seam, the way Kuldeep has been rewarded.
Would you pick Kuldeep and Chahal in your squad for the World Cup in India later this year?
We are talking about seven-eight months from now. Kuldeep is in a space where he is absolutely fine. He needs to be more consistent. He needs to be looking at the tactical part. He needs to know how he will approach each team and venue. The World Cup is in India but every venue has a different dimension, in terms of pitch, soil and climate. He has to prepare himself accordingly.
Will you pick Kuldeep in your World Cup XV?
Both of them?
No. Given the options I have at this point in time, Jadeja will be in my squad. If he is not in good rhythm, you have a back-up in Axar. Then probably I would look at Washy [Washington Sundar] or Ravi Bishnoi, if I have to have one more legspinner, because Bishnoi is more consistent and has a quicker arm action and he's a better fielder than Chahal.