You are on IPL debut, in the same Rajasthan Royals team as Jos Buttler, Trent Boult, Ravichandran Ashwin, Sanju Samson and Yuzvendra Chahal. Twenty-two yards away is the beefy Marcus Stoinis who won Australia the 2021 T20 World Cup with his muscular hitting. You have just seen fellow young pacer Prasidh Krishna, who has already played for India, being hammered for 19 runs in the penultimate over. And now the captain asks you to defend 14 runs in the final over.
That’s where Kuldeep Sen was seven months ago, in a pressure cooker situation like no other. At 25, Sen wasn’t too old, but not an U-19 find either, with plenty of time to fail and learn. Sen had a family with limited means back home in Rewa, Madhya Pradesh. His father runs a barber shop. He wanted to uplift his lifestyle, help his family. Royals had trusted him at the auction, just the same way Samson was empowering him to win a one-on-one battle against a proven power hitter in Stoinis. “I had done it for Madhya Pradesh earlier. There was a feeling from inside that I will be able to do it,” Sen said in an interview.
On to the plans now. “In that match, the Wankhede wicket had some pace and the slower balls were easier to hit. PK (Krishna) had gone for two sixes off slower balls. I told Sanju bhai that I will try for wide-lines outside off-stump because Stoinis’s big shot was the one over deep-mid wicket,” he said.
The wide lines worked. Not all deliveries were yorker lengths, but Stoinis was left frustrated with 14 runs to get in 2 balls. He smacked them for 10 runs but Sen had already won the bout. “With those three good balls, we won the match by three runs. I gained a lot of confidence from that. After that I had a very good IPL. For me it was a great achievement,” Sen said.
Impressed with Sen’s confidence, Samson had called him a special talent who would soon play for India. His prophecy is about to come true as Sen prepares for his first India tour, to Bangladesh for the ODI series, starting December 4. Sen’s is an inspired selection based on positive feedback from the people that matter. He performed well in the A series against New Zealand at home and was a net bowler in the Asia Cup in UAE.
The MP quick will take the flight to Dhaka on a high, having finished as the highest wicket-taker in the league phase of the Vijay Hazare trophy. “In ODIs, consistency and hitting the right lengths is the key. In T20, I try to use my pace, mix it up in the middle overs, yorkers are the key to the death,” he said. “But I don’t have to cut down on peace.”
Sen is proud of the peace he generates. He has named his Instagram handle as ‘150Kuldeep’. Only those who know their cricket would get why. “Almost ho hi gaya tha 150, IPL main. (I almost hit the 150 kph speed in the IPL),” he said. “I use that (150) as a motivation. As an Indian bowler to bowl 140-150 kph consistently, it makes you proud.”
Both Sen and Umran Malik were supposed to travel to Australia for the World Cup as net bowlers, but missed out because of visa issues. He and Malik make a happy fast bowlers’ club. “I feel very good to see the way Umran bowls. People say fast bowlers cannot be friends. But we are. In fact, I watch other fast bowlers and get motivated. Why should we look outside, when you can learn from your peers?”
At Royals, Sen also got a chance to learn from the best on a delivery he loves to bowl. “I trust my ability a lot to deliver yorkers,” he said. “But I know any yorker that goes wrong, will be hit. There is no margin of error. When I got to work with Lasith Malinga (RR bowling coach), he told me one thing ‘bowl the slower ball along with the yorker, not the yorker with the slower ball’. For two yorkers, one slower ball. I learned to structure overs in big matches from him. He made me mentally stronger.”
‘MONEY WILL COME’
While Sen’s young career is taking wings, he is yet to make it to the high earners’ club in IPL. He is willing to wait though. “RR picked me at a base price ( ₹20 lakhs). For me, it is worth crores. A lot of franchises saw me and would promise that they would pick me the next time. RR saw me at the trials and picked me up straight away,” he said. “For me money is not important. Playing IPL was my dream but I didn’t know when and for whom. RR gave me that opportunity. Money will come, that’s not a problem.”
Meanwhile, his father is enjoying the fame that comes from having an IPL cricketer at home who will soon play for India. “I let him go to the saloon, as he likes it,” said Sen. “I don’t stop him. He never stopped me from playing my cricket. When it is possible, I will help him renovate the shop.”