Among the eleven Indians who took the field against Sri Lanka in the first ODI, perhaps none had a greater point to prove than Kuldeep Yadav. The left-arm wristspinner has not been part of India’s first-choice XI in limited-overs formats recently, and faced several questions about his form. He responded by bowling with guile and bit to return 2 for 48, putting to rest the demons of his last ODI outing for India, where he had given up 84 runs in 10 overs as Jonny Bairstow and Ben Stokes ran amok.
After the game against Sri Lanka on Sunday, Yadav pointed to his past record when asked if he feared his white-ball career was over, and said it would be nicer if that was talked about as much as the times he’s not done well.
“Sometimes you get hit for runs, but other times you get wickets too. I have taken three-four wickets often, taken five-six wickets too,” Yadav said. “If people talk about that more, it’ll be nicer (smiles). Nobody’s cricket [career] is finished after one game or two games. I think the last series was good for England because the pitches were very good in Pune. Spinners didn’t have much help. It happens sometimes, the pitch is not in your favour. But sometimes you should credit the batsmen too for batting well, rather than say someone’s cricket is finished.”
Yadav did admit to nerves at the start of the game, nerves compounded by spending a lot of time on the bench, and within bio-bubbles, which can foster self-doubt even with well-intentioned advice.
“Pressure… nervousness is always there when you play, and I was playing after a long time,” he said. “Rahul [Dravid] sir backed me a lot and motivated me. We spoke a lot, and he told me that I should just enjoy bowling, focus on the processes that we have worked on in the last 15 days, and don’t be tense about the result. I’m very happy that my performance was good. You’re definitely nervous if you play cricket after so long, and you want to perform well.
“It is difficult in bubbles. If you don’t play, you get a lot of doubts in your mind,” Yadav added. “There are many people who want to help you, talk to you. But if you talk to too many people, then you create doubts within yourself also. But this is a team sport, and sometimes people get opportunities, sometimes you don’t. You have to just wait for your chance.
“We’re lucky that the kind of atmosphere that is there in the team is so good. We’ve been in a bubble for a month, and the first 14 days were in quarantine in Mumbai. Then when we came here, the series also got rescheduled, so we got five more days. The kind of atmosphere that is there is so good, that we didn’t feel it [the extended time in the bubble].”
The first ODI against Sri Lanka was also a return to the comfort zone for Yadav, being paired with legspinner Yuzvendra Chahal for the first time since India’s league match against England in the 2019 World Cup.
“I’m very happy that we both got to play together after quite some time,” Yadav said. “I think we’re comfortable with each other, and back each other. Whenever it is needed on the field, I tell him something or he tells me things. Our bonding is good. Maybe because we’re so comfortable with each other, it shows on the ground. Our performance was quite good, and the way we did well, playing together after so long, was good for the team.”
Yadav gave a straight-batted reply to the familiar question of what he made of Arjuna Ranatunga’s comment on this being a second-string Indian side, and whether winning by seven wickets with 80 balls remaining was an “answer” to the former Sri Lanka captain.
“We don’t need to answer anybody, we just need to focus on our jobs,” Yadav said. “We have come here to play cricket. We’re really lucky that we’re getting to play cricket in this situation. Our focus is on our team and on how we can perform well in six matches, because we have a lot of youngsters. Definitely, we’ll see every match in the same way, that how can we win it for the team. That’s our motto. Other than that, who says what are their thoughts. We should focus on ourselves and enjoy our cricket.”
The pitch at the R Premadasa Stadium offered a fair bit of turn, with Yadav extracting full use out of it. He anticipated more help for the spinners over the course of the tour.
“I feel that if you bowl in the first innings, because it’s very hot and it’s humid too, the pitch becomes dry and takes turn,” Yadav said. “Definitely if there is a second game on the same pitch, it’ll spin more than in the first match. There are several pitches. Hopefully in the T20Is, some pitches get repeated, although there will be a time gap. But the kind of heat and humidity that’s there, spinners will get turn.”