Kuldeep Yadav's encouraging Chattogram comeback promises a timely revival
As he rolls his wrists over and delivers the ball with the precision of a skilful operator, that too with the execution and consistency of a veteran at the first-class level, the wicketkeeper and the rest of the support cast may well pep up Uttar Pradesh left-arm spinner Saurabh Kumar as "Rangaiyaa!!".
They may well find attributes of the great Sri Lankan left-arm spinner in the local lad, whose rise through the Indian ladder has been magnificent, dispelling worries around an Indian spin cupboard that seemed empty not long before.
Saurabh carries an economy rate of 2.71 after 94 innings at the first-class level, with 19 five-wicket hauls to his name, averaging 23.93, numbers reflecting of a bowler that has maintained relentless accuracy without compromising on incisiveness, threatening both edges of the bat from the straight. Ala Herath, that wily old Fox.
Heading into the Chattogram Test, Saurabh's Test match debut seemed imminent. With Ravindra Jadeja injured, and a three-pronged spin attack the demand of the conditions, it felt UP's own 'Rangaiyaa' is set for his maiden Test cap, having recently ran through the hapless Bangladesh 'A' side. The 29-year-old being a stoic lower-order batter - averaging nearly 30 at the first-class level - was expected to only bolster his stocks.
The rise of Saurabh, not long after the remarkable ascent of Axar Patel, meant the chances of Kuldeep Yadav finding another Test cap to his feathers looked bleak, with a genuine sense of doom and gloom surrounding his future in the whites. Kuldeep could've easily fallen off further in the pecking order but for a vote of confidence from head coach Rahul Dravid and stand-in skipper KL Rahul.
It was the bid of approval needed for the young left-arm wristspinner, who nearly toppled off the cliff, irrevocably so, in the reckoning. And stand a week later, a spinner rejuvenated, resurgent in all its glory, reinforcing why he would be backed by Dravid and the selectors when he seemed to be a lost cause.
On a track whose slow, low nature tilted the scales in favour of a wristspinner, getting it to bite off the deck with overspin against a Bangladesh side not familiar with his kind, Kuldeep Yadav vindicated the faith shown in him, on his way to a match haul of 8 for 113, including an opponent-denting five-fer in the first-innings.
That the figures of 5 for 40 marked Kuldeep's fifth outing that featured four or more wickets in only eight Tests and his overall match tally would reduce his average to a measly 21.55 would make you wonder why there were songs of eulogy being sung around his prospects.
But his last outing came way back in February last year, when on a turning pitch in Chennai, Kuldeep was prodigiously outperformed by debutant Axar and the great R Ashwin, never really looking a part of the contest. He didn't play another Test in the series following an outing which itself came two years after his previous, a memorable one at that, containing a five-fer in the New Year's Test of 2019 at SCG.
Like in Chattogram, it wasn't the wickets but the ability to turn the ball both ways with great control over lengths and consistency of pressure maintained over the batter that became the highlight of his Sydney performance, which compelled the then head coach Ravi Shastri to publically say Kuldeep is "India's No.1 overseas spinner going forward" - a typically gung-ho remark that Shastri typically never acted upon.
Kuldeep Yadav's redemption Test
At 24, Kuldeep could've done without someone putting him on a pedestal, leaving him up for the spotlight that comes with great deal of scrutiny, and letting him rather undergo a smooth transition into a gradually improving bowler at the Test level.
With Shastri's no-deed remark began a frustrating period for the youngster, whose limited-overs stocks dwindled after maximising his honeymoon period and he found no opportunities in the longer version either to keep the stiff competition at bay.
At 28, with only 35 first-class games under his belt, and growing no vacancy in the Test attack, it seemed the door is shutting up on the promising youngster, whose encouraging display in the first Test and the timely resurgence, thus, augurs well for an Indian set-up, whose two leading spinners are perhaps entering the twilight of their rich careers.
With Ashwin bagging only one wicket to his name in a rare outing where he lost control over his line quite repeatedly, Kuldeep relishing the presence of Axar and marrying his wicket-taking nous with the relentless accuracy and smarts of the spinner at the other end, was perhaps the biggest positive of a comprehensive win for India.
Not long from now, India will be entering a transition phase, approaching life without two of their finest-ever spinners and banking on Axar, Kuldeep, and Saurabh, to help retain their potency and dominance, especially in the subcontinent. It is a transition they seem better prepared for today than the time they had Amit Mishra and Pragyan Ojha trying to paper over the struggles and the decline of Harbhajan Singh.
It's a shift India would be advised to take to with greater care and planning than the time their head coach would suggest he'll pick a five-Test-old bowler abroad above an off-spinner on his way to unprecedented genius in the history of Indian cricket, who would later admit those comments deeply "hurt" him and nullify them with overseas performances unmatched by contemporary spinners at the height of a fast-bowling pandemic.
There are still lot of Test wickets left in Ashwin, and Jadeja, but there wouldn't be two men more pleased seeing their able allies take centre stage from time to time and be match-winners that they have been for years. For Kuldeep, this feels like a new beginning to a Test career that seemed on the wane, a performance he needed to remind everyone the bowler he is and could be in the years to follow.