IPL 2019: Kuldeep Yadav's struggles ring alarm bells for India ahead of 2019 World Cup

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Confidence low for Kuldeep Yadav. Image - BCCI/SPORTZPICS.

It is fast turning into a 2019 Indian Premier League (IPL) campaign to forget for Kuldeep Yadav, with the India wrist-spinner’s struggles for all to see.

The Kolkata Knight Riders man has leaked runs at an economy-rate of 8.66 – but that is the least of the troubles currently surrounding him.

More than his growing inability to contain the flow of runs, it is Kuldeep’s lack of wickets which is the biggest cause of concern for both KKR and the India ODI squad ahead of the World Cup.

The 24-year-old is now into his fourth IPL campaign with the Kolkata franchise and has got better with each passing season. After making just three appearances in his debut campaign on 2016, the southpaw grew in prominence in the subsequent two editions where he picked up a total of 29 wickets.

This year, Kuldeep has picked up just four wickets in his nine appearances, with just one of them coming in his five most recent outings for KKR.

Hence, when the left-armer was dropped from the Kolkata playing XI in their latest encounter against Sunrisers Hyderabad, it came as no surprise.

“Definitely a form issue, he (Kuldeep) didn’t stand up for us in the previous game. That’s why we had to give him a break and get him back fresh,” KKR skipper Dinesh Karthik stated after the SRH clash.

“Kuldeep’s not been bowling as well as he would have liked, as we would have liked as well. That’s why we gave him a break, that’s the only reason that we haven’t played him this game.”

Karthik was alluding to Kuldeep’s display against Royal Challengers Bangalore at the Eden Gardens where he was carted for 59 runs in his four overs while picking up just the solitary wicket.

It was a match where Kuldeep’s confidence took a mighty battering, with Moeen Ali taking him for as many as 26 runs in a single over. The defining image from the game was the KKR spinner slumped to the ground in tears following the attack by Moeen, even as his team-mates rushed to console him.

It is hard to forget that Kuldeep is still a youngster who only made his international debut two years ago, but the formidable reputation he had established ever since is now in danger of being wiped away just over a month ahead of the World Cup in England.

Wrist-spinners have become essential commodities in limited-overs cricket over the past few years, with every top international side having at least one of them at their disposal these days.

India have entrusted their faith in Kuldeep and Yuzvendra Chahal since their 2017 ICC Champions Trophy final defeat to Pakistan, with the duo going on to forge a formidable partnership.

However, while Chahal has still managed to hold his own for RCB this season despite the team’s early struggles, Kuldeep has looked a shadow of the player that was terrorising the best of international batsmen just a year ago.

Kuldeep has picked 87 wickets in just 44 ODIs for India so far.

Kuldeep has picked 87 wickets in just 44 ODIs for India so far.

Armed with a lethal and subtle googly, Kuldeep was on song to start with when India toured England in the summer of 2018. He picked up a terrific 6-25 in the first ODI to give India a roaring start in the series before following it up with a 3-68 in the second match.

In the third and deciding ODI, Kuldeep went wicket-less, with England’s batsmen playing him out with ease to clinch the series. The English batsmen, including Joe Root, had struggled to cope with Kuldeep’s variations when they faced him for the first time in their careers, but by the time the series ended, they had started to decipher his mystery.

That is exactly what is happening with the spinner in the IPL this year with the mystery no longer present. Batsmen seem to have figured out his variations and that has seen Kuldeep’s fear-factor totally evaporate.

His struggles, while fellow wrist-spinners like Imran Tahir, Rashid Khan, Chahal and even Rajasthan Royals’ Shreyas Gopal have lit up the IPL, does not bode well for India heading into the World Cup.

A mentally fragile youngster short of confidence is the last thing Virat Kohli and his men need in England.

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Pakistan's 50-over approach under scrutiny as Australia ODI whitewash exposes flaws

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A chastening 5-0 series whitewash for Pakistan at the hands of Australia.

The 20-run defeat in the fifth and final ODI against Australia was symbolic of Pakistan’s struggles in the five-match series with the Men in Green falling short once again of the required gold standard in 50-over cricket.

It was the final ‘home’ series for Pakistan before their departure to England for a five-match ODI series before the ICC World Cup. A 5-0 whitewash at the hands of the Aussies has left the team with plenty of questions to be answered before the global showpiece.

Pakistan have not won a bilateral ODI series against any team not named Zimbabwe since October, 2017. For all their dominance in the T20 format where they are deservedly ranked No1, Pakistan have failed to translate that success into their 50-over displays where they remain a tier below top teams like England, India and Australia.

Granted, they were missing the likes of Babar Azam, skipper Sarfraz Ahmed, Fakhar Zaman, Shadab Khan and Hasan Ali in the series against Australia, yet the manner of their defeat has exposed plenty of gaping holes in the ODI outfit.

Their inability to force the scoring-rate with the bat was all too evident in the five losses and they were duly punished by a clinical Australia who are starting to click into gear at just the right time.

Quite simply, if you fail to score 300 runs on a consistent basis against the top ODI teams in modern cricket, you will likely end up on the losing side as Pakistan have just found out the hard way.

Amassing 280 odd runs in the first two ODIs while batting first was a decent effort from Pakistan’s batsmen but it wasn’t nearly enough with the Aussies coasting to victory in both chases.

Haris Sohail has been one of the few positives.

Haris Sohail has been one of the few positives.

The lack of intent stems from the very top where opener Imam-ul-Haq has struggled to up the ante. The top-order batsmen have failed to score runs at a fair clip and this in return has left the lower order with all to do when it comes to accelerating the scoring rate. If not for some quick-fire cameos from Imad Wasim in the death overs, the report card for Pakistan’s batting would have been even more dismal.

The returns of Babar and Fakhar into the playing XI will no doubt help address some part of this problem but those two alone cannot provide a miracle fix for the unit as a whole. What the team desperately needs is an enforcer in the middle-order and it looks like veteran Shoaib Malik will have to fill that role at the World Cup.

Pakistan would have hoped for Umar Akmal to come good on his international return to provide another alternative to Malik but the right-hander failed to seize his opportunity with some inconsistent displays.

Apart from the lack of intent, the team remains vulnerable to collapses as shown by their defeat in the fourth ODI where they choked to throw away a winning position.

Mohammad Amir's white-ball struggles continue.

Mohammad Amir’s white-ball struggles continue.

With the ball, Mohammad Amir’s struggles on UAE pitches continued with the senior pacer dropped after just one poor display. It looked like the team management were trying to prevent a further drop in Amir’s confidence after the first ODI which only begs the question as to why he was picked in the first place.

The left-armed seamer might still board the World Cup plane given his 2017 Champions Trophy displays in England, but he is now a shadow of the bowler he was when bursting onto the stage as a teenager.

Young Mohammad Hasnain was barely given a chance to make an impact while Test specialists Yasir Shah and Mohammad Abbas did themselves no favours.

There were a few positives to take for Pakistan like the form of Haris Sohail, Mohammad Rizwan and Abid Ali, but those are too few and far in between.

It will of course be a vastly changed Pakistan team in the World Cup but Mickey Arthur and Co have plenty of work to do in changing their whole approach towards 50-over cricket.

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Radical changes needed to arrest Pakistan's declining batting standard in Test cricket

Amer Malik 22:35 13/02/2019
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Pakistan's batsmen have struggled in the Test format of late.

There are a few constants in the universe. We know the Earth takes 365 days, give or take, to revolve around the Sun. We know it rises every morning. And we know Pakistan can’t bat. This isn’t some airy theorem. It has baffled most cricketing scientists: chasing scores, be it large or small, they never fail to fail. QED.

With the Pakistan Super League due to start in a few days, this should give the national team breathing space to uncover more hidden talent, though not necessarily improve their long-term batting woes.

This tale isn’t a new one, it’s been there since the creation of the Pakistan team. You could forgive it with a new-born team, but 70 years on they are still making rudimentary mistakes, some of which I wouldn’t expect my 10 year-old to make. Certainly enough time has passed to iron out any immature indiscretions, or so one would have thought.

The 1970s gave Pakistan the likes of Zaheer Abbas, Majid Khan and the battle-hardened Javed Miandad. The last of these played well into the 1980s and 1990s alongside the likes of Mudassir Nazar, Mohsin Khan and the graceful Salim Malik the 1980s to back him up at the other end. Even Imran Khan, when he couldn’t bowl for an extended period, played as a batsman, and one could pretty much depend on him to hold down an end.

Javed Miandad in action against England.

Javed Miandad in action against England.

In the 1990s there came the languid Inzamam, though he didn’t need to run much especially with his exquisite stroke play, Ijaz Ahmed – and an older Salim Malik and Saeed Anwar. These were players you could rely on to set large totals or chase them down or die trying, and try they did, most times, though they were not without flaws.

The late 1990’s probably produced some Pakistan’s best batsmen ever, Mohammed Yousuf, Younis Khan and Misbah ul Haq. So what went wrong? Why haven’t the current crop learnt from some of these greats. They have been mentored by some of them, by Miandad, Mohsin and Younis Khan, and two of these have had stints as national coach. Yet has that helped?

From past PSL tournaments, Pakistan have been able to source talent for the shorter formats, but this doesn’t resolve the issue for the longer and most quintessential form of the game. Recently they have been undone by both New Zealand and South Africa, with the batting capitulating in both series, much to the dismay of Mickey Arthur.

If he had any hair left, I’m sure he’d have pulled it out due to sheer frustration. Since the retirements of Misbah and Younis, no one has stepped up. Players such as Asad Shafiq have now been playing Test cricket for seven years, but have still to evolve as batsmen, succumbing to pressure, unable to cope on fast and bouncy wickets. Azhar Ali has a triple ton to his name but is another who is found out quite easily in similar alien conditions.

The retirements of Misbah and Younis has left a big hole.

The retirements of Misbah and Younis has left a big hole.

This in part isn’t the fault of the batsman but of the infrastructure of grassroots cricket in Pakistan itself. The wickets are bone dry and flat, which then exposes technique and temperament when playing in South Africa or Australia. Pakistan certainly have the talent, but what use is that if you can’t utilise those abilities everywhere. No amount of coaching will help, it’s more a case of a psychological front foot block.

There is only so much even Grant Flower can do. They don’t need a coach, but a sports psychologist who can help them fight their inner demons when confronted by alien conditions. Pakistan have yet to win an away series in the two aforementioned countries.

Look at how India have developed as a major force in Test cricket, and have won a series in Australia, albeit against a weaker than normal side (without David Warner and Steve Smith), but the conditions were as alien to them as they were for any other team. They showed the mental resilience to overcome the odds and win a series. This should gee Pakistan up if anything.

If Pakistan are to do well then the new guys at the top, Ehsan Mani and Wasim Khan, have their work cut out for them. They will need to improve everything from grassroots level upwards; change the way wickets are prepared in the country, abolish departmental teams, and bring in regional sides, a template similar to that of the Australian Sheffield Shield competition. That could do wonders, creating more competition for a limited amount of places.

If Pakistan are to change their batting mind-set then the changes will have to be drastic, and start to be implemented as soon as possible given they are currently ranked at No 7 in the Test rankings after being at No 1 as recently as 2016.

They will need to reach the speed of light quickly before the force of gravity really pulls them down.

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