“I know, I have to be ready when I get my chance,” Umesh Yadav said after snaffling three wickets each in both the innings of the Pune Test. This, mind you, is easier said than done when you have picked up a 10-wicket match haul in the last Test on Indian soil and then have had to warm the benches for a year to don the Indian clothing at home again.
Umesh Yadav was once among the top three Indian pacers in Tests alongside Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma. In fact, he bowled the most overs by an Indian bowler in Test cricket in two consecutive years—2016 and 2017. You might remember how Yadav slogged his heart out in hostile conditions, with the temperatures in excess of 40 degrees, during the 13-match home Test trail which included tough series against Australia and England.
However, with the emergence of Jasprit Bumrah and opportunities being far and few in between, Umesh gradually kept slipping down the pecking order, so much so that he was not even part of the Indian squad for the series against South Africa to begin with. It was Jasprit Bumrah’s unfortunate stress fracture that brought him back in the fold and Umesh, as mentioned at the outset, “was ready when he got his chance”, and grabbed it with both hands.
A force in home conditions
Not many would contest the proposition that Umesh is a much more lethal bowler in home conditions. It is somewhat ironical as the quick bowlers from the subcontinent wait to tour the SENA (South Africa, England, New Zeland, and Australia) countries to leverage the pace and bounce and add to their tally of wickets. However, with Umesh’s case is a bit different.
Playing for Vidarbha in the Ranji Trophy, he has modelled his bowling on slow and low surfaces. His mantra has always been to bowl quick, to bowl full and to bowl at the stumps—ensuring that each time the batsman misses, he hits. And if there’s reverse on offer, he becomes almost unplayable at times. This is why, in home conditions, he is as good as anyone and has a brilliant bowling average, marginally over 25 from 26 Tests, which is almost six units better than his career average. His strike rate of 48.7 at home is also considerably better than his overall strike rate of 54.2. In fact, his strike rate at home is second only to Shami for an Indian pacer.
One of the problems that has persisted with Umesh is that sometimes, while trying to bowl the effort ball, he sprays it down the leg side and hence leakes a lot of boundaries. He also has difficulty in adjusting his length on overseas pitches. This is one of the reasons that his bowling average slips to 42.19 in overseas Tests and the strike rate is 60.8, seven units more than his career strike rate.
A freak of nature
Umesh Yadav is a freak of nature. He might bowl five ordinary deliveries and suddenly, out of the blue, bowls a snorter that even the best of the best have no answer to. In the first over that he bowled in South Africa’s 1st innings, his first four balls were slanting across the left-handed Quinton de Kock. The fifth one was at a similar line but a bit shorter which gave the opener room to throw his hands at the ball and and earn a boundary.
The last ball of the over came out of nowhere and caught de Kock off guard. Bowled at the perfect length for a bouncer, the ball was aimed at the body and all de Kock could manage was to glove it to Saha.
The spectacle was replayed on the morning of day three, with Yadav conceding seven runs to Zubayr Hamza on consecutive deliveries that were sliding down the left side. As Faf du Plessis took strike, Yadav bowled a proper corker, which pitched on middle and took du Plessis’ off-stump along with it. The South African skipper’s expression said it all.
Time to wait for the next opportunity
The sturdy pacer knows well that 11 wickets from four innings at a mind-boggling average of 12.18 and a strike rate of 21.2 in the series is no guarantee for him to start in the Indian XI for their next Test assignment. But, in his 42-match Test career, punctuated by ups and downs, he has learnt it the hard way that this is all “part and parcel” of the game.
“This is part and parcel, it will keep happening as long as I play cricket. These situations will keep coming, and I know I have to be ready when I get my chance. For that, it’s important to stay positive, keep playing the game, and stay focused,” says Yadav.
Just like the 31-year-old had to wait for his turn despite picking up a 10-wicket match haul in the 2nd Test against West Indies, he might have to warm the benches again, especially in overseas Tests, as the likes of Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar regain fitness. Even at home, with India fielding just two pacers in the eleven, he might have to sit out if the team management backs Bhumrah to team up with Shami. But, India would now know, that they have a top-quality pacer waiting intently for his opportunity to unleash as and when his moment arrives, again.