CricViz Analysis: England v India, First ODI

After Kuldeep Yadav ripped through England once again, Ben Jones analyses what makes the wrist-spinner such an extreme threat.

There has been much fuss made of Kuldeep Yadav before this tour of England. India’s cupboard is well stocked with top-class spin bowlers, but Kuldeep has still been the one spoken of with the most glee, the most excitement. Plenty have anticipated this performance, expected these excellent early returns on tour.

In truth, there’s good reason for this; for many in English cricket, even whispering the word “wrist-spin” was enough to stick two or three extra figures in the wickets column.However, in recent times England have shaken those fears, and have been among the best in the world at facing wrist-spin bowling. Indeed, since the Word Cup in 2015, only today’s opponents have had a better record against wrist spinners in ODI cricket than Eoin Morgan’s side.

And yet today Kuldeep still sliced through England’s batting line-up like a Croatian through English footballing dreams. Intriguingly, he actually only drew 10% false shots, roughly the match average, but the timidity he brought from England’s top-order was extreme. They scored at just 2.5rpo against him, and attacked just 30% of his deliveries, the lowest figure for any front-line bowler on show.

The terror seemed particularly to stem from Kuldeep’s excellent use of variations. Today he bowled only nine googlies, and two of those brought wickets. He normally bowls 24% googlies in this format of the game, but today that was almost halved. In some ways it’s surprising he wasn’t tempted to bowl it more often given how effective it was today, and given it’s phenomenal record to date – in ODIs, it averages just 5.47. As many have pointed out, it is devilishly difficult to pick.

However, there have been some wiles at work from the Indian. Whilst Kuldeep drastically reduced the number of googlies he bowled in today’s opening ODI match, the converse was true in the IT20 series. There, he bowled 61% googlies, substantially up from the 34% he typically bowls in that format. In both instances on this tour, he’s moved away from  his typical pattern of variation, and the tactic has seemed to reap rewards.

As these pitchmaps show, if the wrong’un is hard to read out of the hand, then the difficulty of playing it is compounded by disguise in terms of where the ball lands. Whilst Kuldeep does drift marginally straighter when bowling the googly to the right handed batsmen – or at least he did today – there is no discernible difference in line or length when bowling the googly to the left-hander. Perhaps that is why he averages 2.85 with that delivery to lefties in ODIs.

So how should one go about playing him? Well, given the fear Kuldeep seems to conjure in the hearts of even the most in-form batsmen (Bairstow and Buttler), perhaps we can learn from one of the few batsman who has managed to tame him. Glenn Maxwell has bossed him in ODIs, taking him for 36 from 16 balls, and never being dismissed. The Australian’s main weapon has been the sweep, scoring 24 runs off five shots, and it seems to be a high-risk strategy which can work, even if only in the short term. The slog-sweep against Kuldeep in ODIs scores at 13.33rpo, at an average of 20; that doesn’t sound strong, but when it’s considered that Kuldeep averages 17.71 overall with an economy of 4.61rpo, it looks more appealing. It’s not necessarily a foolproof way, but it has the benefit of (broadly) removing the need to pick the variation, and when the other option is a slow death prodding and poking and playing and missing, it’s the sensible choice.

Ultimately, Kuldeep has the potential to be a phenomenon. The current vogue in white-ball bowling is clearly leg-spin, but his left-handedness gives Kuldeep a quirk, a point of difference, something which lifts him above the rest. Batsmen don’t face many of his kind, and often struggle when first exposed – Joe Root has faced just three balls from left-arm unorthodox bowlers in his entire career, all of them from Kuldeep on this tour, and two have brought his dismissal. The technical advantages of wrist-spin, allied with Kuldeep’s relative uniqueness and obvious talent, mean that we could well be seeing the Indian destroying batting line-ups for many years to come.

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.

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