Umesh Yadav's giant stride in Tests is a big step for Indian cricket

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Umesh Yadav's giant stride in Tests is a big step for Indian cricket

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Bastab K Parida

03/18/2017

Matt Renshaw is well settled at the crease and ready to make his innings count. The Ranchi track belied the expectations and behaved like a proper sportive wicket, much to the batmen's joy. Virat Kohli spotted a hint of reverse-swing and turned to Umesh Yadav to get the much-needed breakthrough.

Before that Umesh endured a pretty ordinary opening spell, in which both David Warner and Renshaw toned down his pace to great effect. But this time, it was not going be a repeat of the first spell. A gentle out-swinger took the edge off Renshaw’s blade and Kohli’s hands were safe enough to bring India back into the game. Australia were two down now.

It was the characteristic Umesh Yadav that we have fallen in love with - full of hostility and sustained pace. It was a thing that has become a norm for him ever since Virat Kohli gave the team a pep talk after the home series win against South Africa last year. 

While pace has always been an inseparable part of Yadav’s arsenal, his inability to stem the flow of runs has been his biggest detractor. In his first 19 Tests, he bowled at an economy rate of 3.96 runs an over - unacceptable in the Test format. And his tally of wickets didn’t inspire any confidence either. Until now, even after playing 30 Tests (including the Ranchi Test first innings), he has taken only 83 wickets. 

But statistics don’t tell you the full story sometimes. These numbers don’t tell us the story of how many yards Umesh has run with panache to get that batsman out, or at least to beat him with his pace. The numbers don’t tell us the story of how brilliant he has been with the new ball and old - using both conventional and reverse swing to great effect.

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In the ongoing series against Australia, Umesh has picked up a total of 12 wickets at an average of 22, and his strike-rate is the best among all the Indian bowlers - even better than Ashwin and Jadeja. While this can be attributed to his new-found disciplined approach, Umesh, himself, credited his improved numbers to the confidence he has gained from playing regularly.

"Actually, I feel it is all the same. I'm doing the same things [through the season], but the confidence from playing matches, and the hard work that I have put in [have begun producing results]," he said at the end of the second day in Ranchi. "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."

Indeed. The giant strides that Umesh has made have largely come about because of the confidence showed by coach Anil Kumble and Virat Kohli. Kohli’s faith in his 6-5 batting-bowling combination has reaped rich rewards for the team as well as Umesh as he got time to settle into the team to prove his mettle in international cricket. It was a little different from that under MS Dhoni's reign. Dhoni, despite being a great backer of Umesh Yadav’s pace and ability to move the ball sideways, was irked by his uncontrolled and toothless bowling in the largely forgettable limited-over series against Bangladesh in 2015, where India were beaten by the Asian minnows. 

After the consolation win in the last ODI against Bangladesh, Dhoni had said, "This win is good, but we need to make a decision if we want quick bowlers or if we want good bowlers even if they are not quick. We have been backing too many quick bowlers who haven't been bowling well."

But Dhoni was the man of process. Despite the harsh words, he continued to give Umesh chances while Kohli, a follower of the Dhoni school of captaincy, continued to write Umesh’s name in the Test sheet. And it must have been heartening for both to see that Yadav's swing is doing all the talking now. 

"I have figured out what my bowling is, where I must bowl, what my weaknesses are, and what my strengths are. Earlier, there was criticism in the media that I bowled a lot on the leg stump and conceded boundaries on the leg side after building pressure for four balls. I have cut that down to a large extent. Slowly, I am getting back to my ways."

Amidst all the drama surrounding his career, what more has worked in Yadav’s favor has been the charge of field setting. He is now bowling as per his own field set rather than following the field set that the captain sets for him. That, in turn, allows him to stick to his strengths to intimidate the batsmen. 

It was on the show yesterday when very little was going India’s way as Smith and Maxwell batted together, and Rahane, the acting captain in the absence of Kohli, turned to Umesh to break the partnership. Although Jadeja got the wicket, it was Umesh who unsettled Maxwell.

It’s also something that other pacers would do well to emulate. In the ongoing home season, when many Indian pacers had shone through, Umesh has been in the forefront of it all. Not only has he done well to unsettle the opposition, Yadav has also settled India's ever-lasting pace conundrum once for all.

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