The period between November 2015 to March 2017 is Umesh Yadav’s most significant phase. During those 17 months when India hosted 17 Test matches, the Nagpur pacer played 14 of them. Despite playing largely on spinning tracks, Umesh held his own exceptionally to lead the pace attack ahead of even senior colleague Ishant Sharma.
Umesh was an automatic entry to the playing XI, as much as the spinning duo of R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja. While the tweakers lorded over opponents on helpful surfaces, Umesh grounded it out and even emerged as one of the primary wicket-taking options for skipper Virat Kohli, 35 sticks is a testament to his toil and skill. That was the sharp, skillful and consistent Umesh.
Things then took a downturn later for the strapping 31-year-old. Inconsistent performances, the re-emergence of Ishant Sharma and Mohammed Shami and the arrival of Jasprit Bumrah has seen him slip to the bottom of the pecking order. He’s no more the number one choice pacer at home — conditions he relishes — and only an afterthought abroad. Since July 2017 where India have competed in 25 Tests (home and away), Umesh has featured in only 11 matches. The drop in fortunes for the talented, hard-working but at times wayward pacer quite drastic.
The second Test here against South Africa was seemingly one of the few chances that would come his way as he tries to regain a permanent place in the playing XI. Bowling with almost the same venom as he did during his peak, Umesh bagged a wicket off his very second ball before going on to complete a fine 3/37 haul in the first innings. In the second innings too, sharing the new ball with Ishant, he struck in the third over itself and finished with a 3/22 effort. He outshone Ishant and Shami to show the fire inside him is still burning.
Umesh, wearing a delighted look at the end of India’s thumping win over South Africa on Sunday, said he never let his ‘dropping’ get the better of him. “This is part and parcel of the game, so these situations will keep coming but what I need to do in these situations is, even if I am not playing, I have to be ready for my chance. For that, it is important to remain focussed and positive. I try that whatever matches I play, Ranji Trophy, India A, etc.
“More you play matches, better you get. It (selection) not in my hands. I can’t say that I will play all Test matches. All the bowlers are doing well, there is a healthy competition and everyone will get their chances at some point or other. I am ready for that and that’s my mindset. When you don’t play cricket, you have only one thing in your hands, hard training. Negative points, lessen the errors, doubled the hard work, focus and mindset. I’m not bothered by what happens or not.”
Performance in one match is too small a sample but it looks like Umesh is eager to climb up the ladder again.