In a cricketing system built and nurtured on orthodoxy, correctness and a scrupulous adherence to the coaching manual, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that we’ve never seen a slow left-arm chinaman (unorthodox) bowler in the Indian team. Kuldeep Yadav, 19, from Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh might just be the man to shatter that tradition. An important member of the Indian squad for the International Cricket Council (ICC) U-19 Cricket World Cup beginning in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, on Friday, Yadav’s story is a tribute to India’s new-age cricketing set-up, which is showing a tentative willingness to embrace and encourage unorthodoxy.

Yadav is the only chinaman bowler playing today across all levels of Indian cricket. Before him, there was Mumtaz Hussain, a spinner from Hyderabad in the 1960s who started off as a chinaman bowler, but after two years, switched to bowling left-arm orthodox spin. Hussain had a successful first-class career, picking 213 wickets in 69 matches. Speaking of the subcontinent, Khalid Khokhar from Pakistan was another chinaman bowler who represented Pakistan railways in first-class cricket there in the 1970s. Internationally speaking, there have been many left-arm unorthodox bowlers over the years, starting with Ellis Achong of the West Indies (after whom the delivery chinaman is named), Charlie Llewellyn (the first non-white cricketer to represent South Africa in Tests and also considered among its earliest exponents), and of course, Garry Sobers. More recently, Paul Adams, Brad Hogg, Simon Katich and Dave Mohammed have been the better left-arm chinaman bowlers on show.

Yadav’s story is particularly curious because he wasn’t meant to be a left-arm chinaman bowler. It started with a slower delivery in the nets which Yadav bowled deliberately with a left-arm chinaman bowler’s wrist position. His coach, Kapil Pandey, instead of throwing the coaching manual at him, persuaded Yadav to develop the technique. “Unhone kaha ki tujhe abh se yehi daalna hai (he said that you should start bowling like this from now)," Yadav says.

Interestingly, Yadav wasn’t quite enamoured by the prospect of turning into a left-arm chinaman bowler. “Mujhe yeh pasand nahin tha (I didn’t like it). I always wanted to become a fast bowler as I was drawn to it by watching Brett Lee. But my coach was insisting that I bowl unorthodox spin."

Yadav gave up cricket for a year, when he was in class IX, before his father pushed him into taking it up one last time, and luckily for him, something clicked. He has made rapid strides as a chinaman bowler in Uttar Pradesh’s under-15 (U-15), U-17 and U-19 teams. Today, he is one of the most talked-about young cricketers in the Indian cricket circles, evoking much curiosity about his bowling.

Yadav has undoubtedly been one of the finds of India’s fantastic junior cricket setup. The state selectors in Uttar Pradesh identified Yadav when he was 13 years old and brought him through their system before the National Cricket Academy (NCA) stepped in and took him on-board for a few camps. In fact, that was when he first met Australian spin legend Shane Warne. “Dav Whatmore (former NCA director) introduced me to Warne during a camp in Bangalore," he says. Warne was impressed with Yadav’s talent and immediately helped him with a few spin bowling lessons. “He said that my basics were good and wanted me to work more on them," Yadav says. “He also liked my variations and kept insisting that I had to maintain them well."

Yadav is not just a unique bowler by type, he’s someone with immense control—probably the toughest skill for a left-arm chinaman bowler to execute. He has a nice bouquet of variations that have befuddled many of the best batsmen at the U-19 level. During last year’s Quadrangular U-19 Series in Visakhapatnam, a South African batsman kept sweeping the balls delivered by Yadav because he couldn’t pick up his variations, until he got out.

“Variations are very essential for my type of a bowler, because not many batsmen can pick me when they first come in," Yadav says. “But what’s more important is that I use my variations carefully and not overdo it."

Yadav can be really slippery with his variations, and can bowl the chinaman, the wrong’un, a flipper, a slider and a faster one. “Besides, I try and use the crease well, and also vary my trajectory and length like other spinners," he adds.

Yadav explains his game plan: “I judge a batsman by how he plays me in the first few balls and then plan accordingly. If the batsman is struggling to pick me, I try and set him up carefully before sneaking in a variation. If he’s set, I keep bowling to my field and control the game." At the U-19 level, the batsmen, keen to impress with their raw stroke-making potential, prefer displaying their attacking game, which Yadav says plays into his hands. “It’s very easy for me when they try to play shots. But there have been times when the batsmen have tried to be patient against me, which is when I try to not get frustrated and keep probing away," he says.

Yadav’s performances for the India U-19 team have been nothing short of sensational. He’s the go-to bowler for captain Vijay Zol whenever he needs a wicket desperately and his statistics reaffirm his importance to his team’s cause. In 18 Youth One Day Internationals, Yadav has taken 34 wickets at an average of 16.20 with a strike rate of 25.58 and a best bowling figure of 4/34. Besides being a regular wicket-taker, Yadav is a miserly bowler whose average runs conceded per over hover around the 2.5 mark, probably thanks to batsmen taking their time to read his deliveries.

These are early days in what looks like a promising career ahead and Yadav acknowledges it rather candidly. He was called up for the Uttar Pradesh Ranji Trophy squad earlier this season and Yadav says he hopes to perform at the domestic level before making it to the top. “I have been doing well for the Uttar Pradesh U-19 team this season, taking 53 wickets in six matches. I want to slowly progress to playing the Ranji Trophy for Uttar Pradesh," he says. Like his peers, playing for India is the ultimate goal, and the absence of quality spinners in domestic cricket might improve his chances. Being unorthodox has its rewards.

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