Wiser by experience

Wiser by experience

Erratic at the start of his career, Umesh Yadav has now become the most dependable pacer for India

Wiser by experience
Since his debut in 2011 against West Indies, Umesh Yadav had played 15 Tests spread over four years up to August 2015. Post that period, it has taken the paceman less than two years to appear in an equal number of Tests. Significantly, 13 of those last 15 Tests have been in India while the other two were in the Caribbean (2016), where the conditions aren’t too dissimilar. Interestingly again, the Vidarbha bowler has taken only 35 wickets in his last 15 Tests compared to 48 scalps in his first 15 and yet he has been more or less a permanent fixture in the playing 11, especially this home season, even when the team has gone with three spinners.

The answer to this paradox lies in his fast-growing ability to provide crucial breakthroughs rather than bag wickets in a clutch, a fact that head coach Anil Kumble alluded to before the start of the third Test against Australia in Ranchi. Be it in the Delhi Test against South Africa (2015) or for most part of the five-Test series against England last year, Yadav has managed to break partnerships and provide that opening for the spinners to run through the innings. He particularly has struck a nice synergy with the now-injured Mohammad Shami, bowling in short bursts with pace and purpose. Credit must also be given to skipper Virat Kohli for using the pacers judiciously to ensure their effectiveness in these conditions.

“It's great to have them (pacers) bowl in short bursts,” Kohli had said recently. “You want them bowl with pace rather than expect them to bowl long spells in the heat and not use them wisely. Having quality spinners obviously helps the fast bowlers to stay fresh and come in those quick spell of for 3-4 overs and try to create opportunities to take a wicket. The good thing is that they are not getting desperate to pick up four and five wickets. They understand the need to come in and give us those breakthroughs and they are pretty happy to play the role.”

Even in this ongoing series against Australia, Yadav’s two wickets -- Mitchell Marsh and Steven Smith -- in the tourists’ second innings of the second Test in Bengaluru opened up the game for India. A natural athlete blessed with the ability to generate good speeds on a consistent basis, the 29-year-old has developed into a skilful bowler both with the new ball and the old ball; exploiting the conventional swing with the former and reverse swing with the latter. His effectiveness with the old ball, particularly, has been a standout feature of Yadav’s bowling this season. Batting coach Sanjay Bangar, himself an accomplished medium pacer in first-class cricket, had shed some light on Yadav’s growth as a reliable fast bowler during the Bengaluru Test.

“He has improved his balance in the crease, his stride has got a bit shorter, and also his wrist position has gotten better. Since his lengths are far fuller, he is able to extract that reverse swing. I think he has worked very hard on his bowling and the results are there for everybody to see,” Bangar had said. Yadav attributed his progress as a paceman to his understanding of his strengths and weaknesses, and the confidence he has gained after playing matches on regular basis. 

“Actually, I feel it is all the same. I am doing the same things but the confidence level (is high) from playing matches, and the hard work that I have put in has been paying off,” said Yadav when asked what has changed for him this home season. “Usually, I used to be in and out of the team and so I didn’t understand what to do but as I started playing more matches, I was just focusing on my bowling; what I should do and what I shouldn’t. I have figured out what my bowling is, where I must bowl, what my weaknesses are and what my strengths are. Right now, I know my strengths better and that I need to bowl to my strengths,” he elaborated.

This understanding of one’s craft is critical to the success of a player. Fast bowling in India is a complicated and strenuous job, both physically and mentally. In the absence of favourable conditions in the shape of bounce or movement off the pitch or in the air like in Australia or South Africa or England, a fast bowler has to rely on reverse swing and myriad other variations.

“Sometimes you have a plan in mind when to bowl the cross seam balls but usually it is the way the wicket behaves that dictates that,” he pointed out when asked about his repeated use of cross-seam grip in the recent past. “Once I understand the wicket, then I figure out if a cross seam ball will be effective or when it can be used as an effective ball. It is about understanding the wicket and whether an upright seam is making a difference or do I need to change it. So I think about all those things and then try to execute it. When I feel the ball can jump up off a length or variable bounce then I bring that into my game,” he reasoned.

That he is willing to learn from his mistakes was evident when he admitted he had not been consistent with his lines in the past. Often castigated for letting the pressure off the batsmen after four good balls, Yadav has managed to cut down on loose deliveries. “Earlier, there was a criticism in the media that I bowled a lot on the leg-stump, conceded boundaries on the leg-side, that after building pressure for four bowls, I would bowl a boundary ball. I have cut that down to a large extent. Slowly, I am getting back to my way, trying to bowl my best deliveries.”