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Bruised, battered, and down on his knees - Kuldeep's horror IPL 2019 continues

ESPNcricinfo logo ESPNcricinfo 20-04-2019 Sreshth Shah
© AP Photo

It's the final ball of Kuldeep Yadav's spell. All night, he has been bowling over the wicket but now goes around it. It's tossed up invitingly, spinning across Moeen Ali, and the batsman slices it into the hands of the long-on fielder. After his last five balls have been hit all around the park, Kuldeep finally gets his man, removing the dangerous-looking Moeen for a 28-ball 66.

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It's time to celebrate because Moeen was looking ominous, but not for Kuldeep. As the other fielders race towards the fielder - Prasidh Krishna - to congratulate him on a difficult catch, Kuldeep takes his cap from umpire Nitin Menon, but instead of putting it on his head, hurls it on the ground in anger.

Or perhaps it's disappointment, because Kuldeep picks up his cap straightaway, and makes his way to the midwicket boundary. As he treads back, Chris Lynn runs from mid-on to pat Kuldeep on his back. The young Prasidh also races across from long-on to put an arm around the spinner's shoulder, and Andre Russell is the next man to have a word with him.

It's also the second strategic timeout of the evening, and the Kolkata Knight Riders players get into a huddle near mid-off. But Kuldeep is nowhere near the team. He's on his knees near the boundary.

Complete coverage: IPL 2019

Nitish Rana and a substitute player run towards Kuldeep to get him on his feet. But he's inconsolable. He uses his purple towel to wipe his face, but how much of that was sweat and how much of it was tears, we'll never know.

What we do know is that it took three Knight Riders players to take Kuldeep back to the team huddle, and even then, he stood a few feet away from the conversation, his eyes resembling a soldier in war-time looking into the abyss. The timeout ends, and Kuldeep is escorted nearly all the way to the cow-corner by a team-mate, and Royal Challengers Bangalore's innings resumes.

Even when you're surrounded by nearly 50,000 people in a ground, life can seem pretty lonely. The camera pans to Kuldeep near the boundary and his face is flush red. A few overs later, Marcus Stoinis' pull bounces just in front of him, and all Kuldeep can do is parry the ball over the ropes for four. Three balls later, Kohli flicks a full toss towards deep-backward square leg, and Kuldeep dives across to make a stop, but it's simply not his night. The ball trickles for four as Kohli reaches his hundred. 

****

We often forget that Kuldeep is still only 24. He joined Knight Riders six years ago as a teenager and has risen through the ranks before becoming a permanent member of the Indian team. But it cannot be easy to see your national captain celebrate every delivery that's smacked past you for a six or four. A World Cup's coming up, and here you are, getting owned by an England player on an Indian ground, despite all the tricks you have up your sleeve. The loopy deliveries flew over long-on, the flatter ones were slapped to the point fence, and anything on off stump was slogged across the line to the midwicket boundary. The pressure on Kuldeep - to bamboozle batsmen like he usually does - has been rising since Knight Riders' losing streak began last week, and the 59 runs he conceded on the night very nearly broke the man.

In 2017, Kuldeep took 17 wickets in 16 games, the year before 12 in 12 games. Before the start of the game against Royal Challengers this season, though, Kuldeep's wicket tally stood at three from eight games. Wristspinners are meant to take wickets, and Kuldeep has said in the past that his job in the team is to break partnerships - even if that means getting hit for a few more runs - but even those have been hard to come by. An economy of 8.66 this season is pardonable for a bowler searching for dismissals, but when those don't come by, even the best in the business can be plagued by self-doubt.

With a bowling average of 71.50, 2019 has - by far - been Kuldeep's worst IPL season. It hasn't helped that on most days, the bowlers from the other end have failed to keep the run-flow in check. That has allowed batsmen to play Kuldeep in a more conservative manner, where they needn't take unnecessary risks against him.

It's not the first time, however, that Kuldeep has been bruised by the opposition. At Feroz Shah Kotla against Delhi Capitals earlier this season, Kuldeep was smashed for a 33-run two-over spell by Shreyas Iyer and Prithvi Shaw, forcing Dinesh Karthik to take him out of the attack. That evening too, his shoulders had drooped, but the captain allowed him to seek some redemption by bringing him back for the 18th and 20th overs that night. He returned to concede only 11 runs in his last two overs and almost single-handedly took the game into a Super Over.

The greatest comeback stories in sport are when people rise from the depths of despair to conquer it all once again, but against Royal Challengers on Friday, Kuldeep had no such opportunity to redeem himself, and for a champion bowler like him, nothing would've hurt him more.

Watch: 'It was way too much in the end for Rana & Russell'

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