In the last six months, Kuldeep Yadav has played only one Test and two ODIs. He was downgraded in BCCI’s annual contract and couldn’t find a place in playing XI for Kolkata Knight Riders in IPL. It has been the toughest past six months for India’s 26-year-old spinner and the future is uncertain as he hasn’t been selected for the England tour. It’s been said he needs to bowl with more fizz and pace, and some critics have argued for the exact opposite that he needs to bowl slower.
In a chat with The Indian Express, Yadav spoke about where things went wrong with his bowling, how he was depressed when he wasn’t played in the IPL, and why he does miss MS Dhoni sometimes. Excerpts
Has the last 12 months been the toughest in your career?
It didn’t go well. I didn’t play as many matches as I expected to, and somewhere I was low on confidence. When you are playing non-stop, players do feel high on confidence. The more one sits out the more it gets tougher. I felt a huge pressure on me when I played the Test against England in Chennai this February (his last Test was in January 2019). Due to Covid there was nothing happening, so things got really tougher even more last year. It wasn’t the best period.
Did you start doubting yourself at any point?
I did, sometimes I felt, ‘what is going on?’. It was difficult times. Sometimes, the mind says, ‘ab shayad woh Kuldeep nahi rahe’ (Perhaps, I am not the same Kuldeep). Sometimes I feel, ‘no, I am still the same’ and I wait for the opportunity.
There were days when you feel serving drinks and being on the bench is for the best – yaar yeh to best seat hai apne liye – and then but there are days you don’t want to be in that place. I would think, I should have been there playing. I tried to motivate myself every time. I try to be happy and feel that I am bowling well. There was self-doubt somewhere. It happens with everyone, I started questioning myself.
I started to focus on what others are saying about me instead of backing myself and not creating any doubt in my mind. I spoke to my coach Kapil Pandey and team bowling coach Bharat Arun also. One thing they all said that you just follow the process and everything will be in place.
How tough was it to be on the bench and see your teammates playing?
No player likes to sit out. Everyone wants to contribute to team success. Sometimes team combination plays a huge role, sometimes the situation is such that one has to sit out. Such things are not in one’s hand.
What did the bowling coach Bharat Arun tell you?
There were small things in my bowling. We spoke about the angle and use of pace in my bowling. I spoke to Ravibhai (Ravi Shastri) and Viratbhai (Virat Kohli) also. They all said not to overthink much. Arun sir said the demand for team combination is something else, that the team requirements are different at the moment.
Didn’t you lose your loop and dip a bit?
Sometimes it happens. I tried to bowl much faster hoping that batsman doesn’t get time to reach to the ball. I was trying to bowl with pace without realising that it’s not my strength. It’s a mistake I did against England. I realised that I can’t be Rashid (Khan) who can spin at pace. My strength is flight and ability to deceive in air, and turn and I should stick to it. I have been successful because of bowling slow. Sometimes bowling with pace can be good as a variation but in the longer run, it can’t take me where I want to.
Did you analyse what went wrong?
I was not getting enough match practice. It makes a huge difference. It’s tough to make any adjustments when playing after a gap. I needed to do more in my bowling. I felt I was bowling well but I was trying too much at times. I was desperate to get wickets. I put more effort. When I played that Test match in Chennai I was trying hard to spin the ball more. Mein jyada sochne laga tha. (I had started to overthink). Arun sir came and said that I need to keep it simple especially as I am bowling in a match after a gap of a few months.
I had played after a long layoff. It was becoming difficult for me to get everything right.
How bad did it get, were you depressed?
I was especially when I didn’t find a place in my IPL team Kolkata Knight Riders. I wondered, ‘am I that bad?’ It’s a team-management decision and it would be wrong to go and ask them. I wasn’t played in Chennai during the IPL despite knowing it’s a turner. I was a bit shocked but couldn’t do anything. The bio-bubble life has also thrown challenges for everyone. When I am not playing, nothing looks nice.
Since MS Dhoni’s exit, have you ever felt had he been there behind the stumps, things could have been different?
Sometimes I miss that guidance because he (Mahi) has great experience. He used to guide us behind the wicket, kept screaming! We miss his experience. Rishabh is there now, the more he plays, the more input he will give in the future. I always felt every bowler needs a partner who can respond from the other end.
When Mahibhai was there, I and Chahal were playing. Ever since Mahibhai left, Chahal and I haven’t played together. I played only a handful of games after Mahibhai left. I must have played ten-odd games. I had even taken a hat-trick. If you look at the performance as a whole, it will look pretty decent but if one breaks it up then my performance sometimes can look not up to the mark. One has to also look at the opposition we are playing against.
How much does confidence matter for wrist spinners?
It is very important. It is important to play regularly as it takes two or three games to regain that confidence.
If I play ten matches on the trot then I know four games I can do well and the remaining six I can have an average day. People have started talking after one game. They say that he has lost form, gaya form. They need to understand I have not been getting opportunities, so I feel they should not pass judgement soon.
Did you speak to Virat, Ravi or Rohit Sharma?
I did. They motivated me but the team combination was such that I wasn’t getting in.
What’s your plan now?
I want to work on my bowling and also work on my batting. To get my rhythm I need to play more games. The more I play the better I will be again.