New Delhi, Jan 27: When Kuldeep Yadav had gone for a skier during a Kolkata Knight Riders practice session in the UAE last September, little did he know that within seconds his world would come crashing down with a twisted knee.
Those present at the Dubai training facility were horrified seeing his condition as he lay there writhing in pain, waiting to be stretchered out. In a week's time, he underwent a major knee surgery in Mumbai, which cast doubts on how long it would take for him to get fit for competitive cricket.
He visited Mathura with his family on Thursday to offer prayers on his comeback, for Kuldeep really needed some divine intervention to make his way back into the Indian team. Otherwise, all that he could have done was to wait at home to hear from the BCCI if it would hold the now-postponed Ranji Trophy, where he was supposed to lead Uttar Pradesh.
"It will be a very tough road ahead for Kuldeep. He hasn't had any proper domestic games under his belt and it's not easy to make an international comeback just like that," one of India's greatest spinners, Harbhajan Singh, told PTI when asked about his expectations.
"He wasn't playing regularly before surgery and when you are making a comeback in white ball, the first thing that's at the back of your mind is 'I don't want to get hit'.
"So it's like striking a balance as you are naturally dealing with a lot of insecurities. It's a test of mental fortitude," said Harbhajan, who saw Kuldeep from close quarters at KKR nets.
But Kuldeep has the skills and the 'Turbanator' expects that he can get a few early wickets and make it a different ball-game. "Let me make it clear. If he gets a couple of early wickets, he will be a different bowler but things may not go as per plan. It might take some time for him to get back the rhythm.
"My only suggestion would be that stick with him since you have shown conviction based on his past performances and give him enough time and confidence. He is a man who can deliver the goods for India," said the holder of 700-plus international wickets.
The national selectors made an exception for him as he is one of the rare cricketers who is coming back without having to prove his match-fitness as there is no domestic cricket at the moment.
The rub of green finally seems to be going Kuldeep's way after enduring rough times as his exclusion from the playing XI wasn't always a cricketing one during the earlier regime of Virat Kohli and Ravi Shastri.
Call it India's bare spin cupboard and injuries or poor form of some elite spinners, the fact is that the 27-year-old Kanpur man is back in the national mix after an eventful near three years.
During this period, he was first called, "India's No. 1 overseas spinner" by Shastri after a five-wicket haul in Sydney, only to not play a single Test in the next two years. It didn't help that some unwanted individuals were spreading canards about him to people close to the team management and no one knows if that had an adverse effect on his chances.
Kuldeep's childhood coach Kapil Pandey is a former first-class cricketer from Services and has nurtured him since he was only nine years old when he came at his camp at the Rovers ground in Kanpur.
"My boy (Kuldeep) is mentally very tough. He hasn't lost an iota of skill. Yes, the more he bowls, the better he will get. Rhythm is nothing but attaining a perfect execution level based on repetition of skills to create the muscle memory bank," Pandey, who has worked with Kuldeep after he resumed his skills training said.
So how was it after he came back from his initial rehab phase 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 overs per day to just get the feel. That was at NCA and then when he came at the academy to train, he was bowling around five to six overs as per advice of NCA physio and Strength & Conditioning coach, the doctors.
"Obviously at the start, he would be slightly wary about the state of his knee while landing but with time, it became perfectly okay," Pandey, a former Indian Navy man said.
The coach said that it will be wrong to presume that Kuldeep hasn't bowled a lot as he arranged for red-ball practice games at the STI ground where he bowled to the U-19 and U-23 state level players.
"Since Kuldeep was supposed to lead in Ranji Trophy, we were practising with red ball and he played three to four red ball practice games and looked very comfortable. He would either play a mach or train a lot coming to the ground at 9:30 am and leave only after 5:30 pm," Pandey said.
So how many overs was he bowling every day? Pandey said that in the three practice games, he had bowled between 15 to 20 overs a day.
"I think it is a decent amount of overs. He would bowl in three spells of seven to eight in the first one followed by two six or seven over spells. He was releasing the ball well. He was giving it air and also getting a lot of drift and got it to turn both ways," Pandey said.
In fact, during the skills session, Pandey got Kuldeep to bowl to more left-handers as southpaws like David Warner and Usman Khawaja had played him well. "He was practising taking the ball away from left-handers (conventional left-arm leg-break or 'chinaman') rather than bowling googlies (stock delivery for slow left-arm orthodox)."
Pandey believes that it's all in the mind as far as comebacks are concerned. "Skill is an essential part and I don't agree with anyone who believed that Kuldeep had lost his mojo. Yes, rhythm was an issue but his skills remained intact. When you make a comeback after three or four months, it's all in the brain.
"If your head says, that everything is fine, you will get into the rhythm quicker," Pandey seemed confident. "Don't forget he has 100- plus ODI wickets and two hat-tricks. I can visualise that my boy will get another hat-trick," Pandey signed off.