A rising chinaman dreams of being India’s Warne
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Fiddling with his smartphone in a fast-food restaurant, Kuldeep Yadav, spiky haired and smartly dressed, comes across as any other teenager. On a cricket ground though, the 18-year-old belongs to a rare species.
He is a left-arm spinner who relies not on his fingers but on his wrist to generate turn. But the fact that he plays for the India under-19 team further narrows this exclusive subset down: it makes the Uttar Pradesh lad the only chinaman bowler to have represented the country at a serious level.
A chinaman bowler is a left-arm spinner who turns the ball to come in to a right-hand batsman instead of going away. It is named after the 1930s' West Indian bowler Ellis Achong, the first Test player of Chinese descent, who would sometimes use this wrist ball as a variation.
In Yadav's case it is not just the unorthodoxy of his style that makes him stand out — he is rather good at playing it. In the recent triangular one-day tournament in Australia the Indian colts won, he was the team's highest wicket-taker with nine scalps in four games at an average of 6.44 and an economy rate of 1.81.
Also, in his fledgling career, he claims to have dismissed Sachin Tendulkar and Cheteshwar Pujara. "Sachin paaji," says Yadav, with a twinkle in his eyes. "I clean bowled him off the first ball that I bowled to him."
Yadav was in the Mumbai Indians squad during IPL 5. As a junior player in a team that had Harbhajan Singh and Pragyan Ojha, he would not make his debut, but got a few practice games. In the first such outing, he faced the leading batsman in the world.
"Sachin paaji didn't know I was a chinaman bowler — no one in the team did, except coach Shaun Pollock. It was the stock ball. It pitched outside off and turned in sharply. Took him by surprise," Yadav recalls. Pujara fared marginally better. He lasted four balls at the National Cricket Academy.