Indian spinner Kuldeep Yadav opens up about his personal equation, fondness and the time he spent with legendary Shane Warne.
Childhood hero: As a kid, I used to bowl fast but my coach told me that fast bowling isn’t my forte, and instead I must try to become a spinner. He said there is a world-class spinner called Shane Warne and I must look at his bowling and pick up the ropes. I was 11 or 12 when I started watching him with rapt attention and observing his repertoire of skills, the way he used to flight the ball, his rhythm, how he used his body and deployed different variations.
I distinctly remember following the Ashes 2005 in England just to watch him bowl. I used to come early from practice as Tests in England start from 2 pm. I followed him very closely and noticed how he gripped and turned the ball. Then I would try to bowl just like him. He is someone who has been my role-model and I have always followed him. Even now I watch his videos and try to pick up nuances.
Shane Warne, the man: I first met him at Pune when Australia visited India for a Test series. I just listened to him awestruck like a young boy. I didn’t know what to say as I was in awe of him. But slowly, I opened up as he made me feel comfortable. The best part about him was that he used to talk to wrist spinners very passionately and share his experiences uninhibitedly without any hang-ups or airs. He was an extremely outspoken and candid person but very down-to-earth. I have seen him gelling with people from the word go. He was always full of beans and had amazing zest for life. I have not seen anyone like him.
When I visited Australia in 2018 for the Test series, he helped me enormously. I spent a lot of time with him during that tour asking him questions and picking up his brains. I even visited his home. I didn’t play in the first 3 Tests of the series. Ultimately, I played the last Test of the series and he was just waiting when I would get the chance.
Before the Test, he told me to just enjoy my bowling and have a smile on my face. Thankfully, I performed well and snapped up five wickets. That remains the biggest day of my life as my idol was commentating, when I hoovered up five scalps. Whenever I faced any problem, I would call him up and he was ever so generous to share tips and suggestions.
He was a very understanding, easy person and I used to talk my heart out with him. I consider myself extremely lucky that he was very fond of me, both as a bowler and as an individual. He has publicly praised me immensely so many times. Perhaps he liked the fact that I try to bowl like him and set up batsmen like he used to. I don’t want anything from anyone. A compliment from a great man like him is the last word.
Shane Warne, the bowler: There have been so many great spinners but his class was totally different. No one ever has spun the ball the way he did, and with unerring accuracy and supreme control. That’s absolutely rare. He was a master at playing with batsmen’s psyche and outfoxing them. His cricketing sense was sensational. Of course, he had a bagful of tricks and variations such as sliders and flippers which he used to great effect. All this didn’t come easy.
He was mentally a very strong person and never shied away from praising his opponents whenever they dominated him on a particular day. But he never threw in the towel at any stage and always bounced back with vengeance. No wonder, he has snaffled heaps of wickets in all parts of the world, be it South Africa, England, New Zealand or Asia. He always told me that batsmen can dominate you on a particular day, but if you have the wherewithal — the spin, dip, drift and variations — you would have the upper hand most of the time.
The last word: The last time I spoke with him was 15 days ago, when I was injured. We were discussing how I should remain positive and mentally strong. I broke into tears when I heard the news of his death. I was in a state of shock and could not believe for two days that he was no more. He had told me he would be in England in June and July and we could meet there. Alas, that would not happen now.