Not until five years back, when he was 19, did Yadav begin to consider a career in cricket. His rise since has been dramatic, the right-arm quick quickly moving up the ranks to thrust himself into the international limelight.
Not unlike Munaf Patel, from little known Ikhar, Yadav arrived with a massive reputation of bowling seriously quick behind him. For a nation starved of ‘fast’ bowlers, Yadav’s consistent clocking of 140 kmph has singled him out as a young man worth watching and investing in. Early returns indicate that it is a worthwhile investment, but then again, these are just early indications.
For one reason or the other – a lack of hunger, a disregard for the strict regimen that fast bowling in particular in India necessitates, a conservative approach, a massive attitude – India have seen young men coming in as fast bowlers and quickly making the transition to medium-fast. Patel is a classic case, though he was never timed competitively when whispers of 150 kmph began to float around some half a dozen years back. VRV Singh too was pacy when he surfaced in early 2006, but is languishing in the sidelines, superfluous even to Punjab in the Ranji Trophy.
S Sreesanth is another prime example of talent gone awry, the ability to get the cricket ball to swing at considerable pace losing out to repeated on and off-field misdemeanours that have brought him more publicity than his on-field exploits. Whether it is a failure of the system which is supposed to nurture such individuals, or the failure of the individual himself, is open to debate, though it can’t be denied that the system as it exists doesn’t look kindly upon ‘difficult’ men, however talented they might be.
Yadav has a long list of men to ponder over and learn lessons from. Learn what he must not do, that is.
The son of a coal mine worker with aspirations of becoming a policeman until the pull of cricket became irresistible, Yadav finds himself in prime position to wield his authority on the field of play. Not only is he quick, but he is also a quick learner. He appears well grounded, a reasonably intelligent head fixed on his firm shoulders, and isn’t chary of putting in the hard yards.
With three years of first-class cricket under his belt, the 24-year-old already realises that fast bowling in India is no walk in the park. Pitches are generally flat and unresponsive, sometimes back and spirit-breaking, encouraging batsmen to hit through the line smug in the knowledge that there is little scope for lateral movement. There is little bounce to be had, no joy in banging the ball in; these are lessons reasonably learnt, for Yadav showed in the second Test at the Eden that while he is still far from the finished product, he has the nous to take the pitch out of the equation by bowling full and getting the older ball to reverse.
He is also extremely fortunate that in Mahendra Singh Dhoni, he has a skipper who can strike the ideal balance between allowing his young charge to let it rip and ensuring that he is not bowled to the ground. “Umesh is someone who can bowl really quick,” the Jharkhandi who has become a huge hero for the cricketing outpost remarked. “But we will have to use him in the best possible manner so that we don't overuse him and he gets injured. It's important to sustain oneself at the top level. It's not always about bowling fast; sometimes, you have to bowl in the right areas with the intent of creating pressure.”
After a modest Test debut at the Feroze Shah Kotla when he picked up two second-innings wickets, Yadav was a star at the Eden on his way to match figures of seven for 113. Six of his Test scalps have been bowled, a testimony to the length he favours, but like he showed with that peach which got rid of Adrian Barath, he can also obtain shape and bounce with the new ball and catch the outside edge.
Crucially, he has the pace, the accuracy and the skills to fire out the tail. With Australia beckoning, Yadav should be the ideal foil to a fit-again Zaheer Khan and a rejuvenated Ishant Sharma.