‘A difficult road awaits you’: Harbhajan Singh wants Indian team to ‘stand by’ player

When Kuldeep Yadav went for a skier during a Kolkata Knight Riders training session in the United Arab Emirates last September, little did he know that in seconds his world would come crashing down with a twist of his knee. Those present at the Dubai training center were horrified to see his condition as he lay there, writhing in pain, waiting to be laid down. Within a week, he underwent major knee surgery in Mumbai, which cast doubts on how long he would need to prepare for competitive cricket.

He visited Mathura with his family on Thursday to offer prayers upon his return as Kuldeep badly needed divine intervention to return to the India squad.

Otherwise, all he could have done was wait at home to hear from BCCI if they would host the now-postponed Ranji Trophy where he was supposed to lead Uttar Pradesh.

“It will be a very tough road for Kuldeep. He hasn’t had any real domestic matches under his belt and it’s not easy to make an international comeback like this,” said one of India’s biggest spinners, Harbhajan Singh, to PTI when asked about his expectations.

“He wasn’t playing regularly before the surgery and when you make a clean ball return the first thing that comes to mind is ‘I don’t want to be hit’.

“So it’s like finding a balance because you naturally face a lot of insecurities. It’s a test of mental toughness,” said Harbhajan, who has seen Kuldeep up close in the KKR net.

But Kuldeep has the skill and the ‘Turbanator’ expects the player to be able to get a few early wickets and make it a different ball game.

“Let me be clear. If he gets a few early wickets he will be a different bowler, but things may not go to plan. It could take him a while to get back into the groove.

“My only suggestion would be to stick with him as you have shown conviction based on his past performances and given him enough time and confidence. He is a man who can deliver the goods for India,” declared the holder of more than 700 international counters. .

National coaches have made an exception for him as he is one of the few cricketers to return without having to prove his suitability for the match as there is no national cricket at the moment.

The rubbing of the green finally seems to be going Kuldeep’s way after enduring tough times as his exclusion from the playing XI hasn’t always been cricketing under the previous rule of Virat Kohli and Ravi Shastri.

Call it India’s bare spin cabinet and injuries or the poor form of some elite spinners, the fact is the 27-year-old from Kanpur is back in the national mix after a turbulent period of nearly three years.

During this period, he was first called “India’s No.1 foreign spinner” by Shastri after a five-wicket run in Sydney, only to play no Tests for the next two years.

It didn’t help that some undesirable people spread pranks about him to people close to the team’s management and no one knows if that had a negative effect on his chances.

Childhood coach Pandey knows his ‘boy’ is tough

Kuldeep’s childhood coach Kapil Pandey is a former Services first-class cricketer and has nurtured him since he was just nine when he came to his camp at the Rovers ground in Kanpur.

“My boy (Kuldeep) is mentally very strong. He hasn’t lost an iota of skill. Yes, the more he plays the better he will become. Rhythm is nothing but perfect level of execution based on skill repetition to create the muscle memory bank,” said Pandey, who worked with Kuldeep after returning to professional training.

So how did it go after returning from his initial phase of rehabilitation at the National Cricket Academy in Bengaluru? “We followed the routine provided by the NCA. Initially he was told to start bowling two to three times a day to get the feel. It was at the NCA, then when it came to the academy for training, he would play about five times at six overs under the advice of NCA physio and strength and conditioning coach, The Doctors.

“Obviously at first he was a little suspicious of the state of his knee when landing, but over time everything became perfectly fine,” said Pandey, a former member of the Indian Navy.

“Bowling between 15 and 20 overs a day”

The coach said it would be wrong to assume Kuldeep didn’t play much as he held red ball practice matches at the STI ground where he played against the U-19 and U level players -23.

“Since Kuldeep was supposed to lead the Ranji Trophy, we were training with a red ball and he played three to four practice games with a red ball and looked very comfortable. He was either playing a mach or he was training a lot, arriving on the ground at 9:30 a.m. and not leaving until after 5:30 p.m.,” Pandey said.

So how many overs did he bowl every day? Pandey said that in the three practice matches he played between 15 and 20 overs a day.

“I think that’s a decent amount of overs. He was doing three seven-eight spells in the first followed by two six- or seven-over spells. He was releasing the ball well. He was giving it air and getting also a lot of drift and spun it back and forth,” Pandey said.

In fact, during the skills session, Pandey asked Kuldeep to play more lefties, as lefties like David Warner and Usman Khawaja had played him well.

“He was practicing getting the ball off left-handers (conventional left-arm leg-break or ‘chinaman’) rather than bowling googlies (stock delivery for the slow left-arm orthodox).”

“His know-how is intact”

Pandey thinks it’s all in the spirit when it comes to returns.

“Skill is key and I don’t agree with anyone who thought Kuldeep had lost his mojo. Yes, the pace was an issue but his skills remained intact. When you come back after three or four months, it’s all in the brain.

“If your head says it’s okay, you’ll get into the rhythm quicker,” Pandey said confidently.

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“Don’t forget he has over 100 ODI wickets and two hat-tricks. I can imagine my boy will get another hat-trick,” Pandey signed.

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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