The resurgence of Umesh Yadav in IPL

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Umesh Yadav celebrating a wicket against RCB in IPL 2022

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The resurgence of Umesh Yadav in IPL

Umesh Yadav’s attacking skills in Powerplay have been one of the major highlights of the ongoing IPL 2022. The 34-year-old fast bowler, who only played twice in the last two IPL editions for DC, was picked by KKR at his base price when his name was called for the third time at the 2022 mega auction.

Umesh Yadav, a fantastically skilled bowler with a skiddy bouncer and several brilliant variations, did not play a single match for Delhi Capitals (DC) in the Indian Premier League (IPL) last year. He, as a limited-overs specialist, was viewed with suspicion by many. As a result, the 34-year-old went unsold twice at IPL 2022 mega auction before Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR), his former franchise, gave him a contract at his base price of INR 2 crore.

The KKR’s newly-appointed skipper Shreyas Iyer gave the responsibility to Umesh to bowl the first over in IPL 2022. Initially, it did not work out the way they would have hoped for, as the fast bowler became the first to commence an IPL season with a no-ball. But two balls later, the unpredictability turned into accuracy when he flummoxed Chennai Super Kings (CSK) opener Ruturaj Gaikwad, the last season’s highest run-getter, by extracting steep bounce.

Umesh, 1.78 metres long, used his height appropriately, tempting the batters to take risks in Powerplay.  Gaikwad’s new opening partner Devon Conway fell into the trap in the fifth over when he tried to play the first ball over mid-on after dancing down the track. But it was not pitched there to be hit like that and went straight into Shreyas’ hands.

CSK could only manage 12 from Umesh’s three consecutive overs in the Powerplay. At the end of CSK's innings, when the fast bowler completed his quota with excellent figures of 4-0-20-2, it turned out to be a Shreyas Iyer masterstroke. His game-changing opening spell rewarded him the Player of the Match award at the post-match presentation ceremony.

The scenario against Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) for KKR was completely opposite to what they had against CSK.  This time they only had 128 to defend against the batting line-up that boasts of having Faf du Plessis and Virat Kohli, who are defined as limited-overs conquerors. Umesh had the new ball in hand, and similar to his previous outing, he got a wicket with the third legal delivery of the first over. Anuj Rawat was the man to be dismissed, as he failed to steer a shortish length delivery, and nicked it to the KKR wicket-keeper Sheldon Jackson.

Kohli was the next man in. He smashed back-to-back fours off Umesh’s first two balls to put the latter on pressure. But the pacer had the last laugh when he found the former RCB captain’s outside edge with a back of a length delivery that pitched outside off stump. It set the tone for KKR to stage a fightback.

Umesh’s figures in the Powerplay against RCB were exactly the same (2-12) he returned against CSK. But he attributed his brilliance to completing his quota with an even better than he had against RCB, finishing at 4-0-16-2. Unfortunately, it did not come for a winning cause, as KKR, largely because of Andre Russell’s lacklustre bowling performance, ended up losing by three wickets in the final over of the contest.

Umesh Yadav has been simply outstanding. I was lucky enough to play with Umesh when I was still playing the game back then and I knew how good a bloke he was and how much of a talent he was, especially with the new ball if there was assistance."

Brendon McCullum, KKR head coach

Unlike most of the pacers, Umesh’s go-to delivery is neither a yorker nor the slower balls in a game where the bowlers are constantly under attack. He tends to keep things simple and tries to bowl around outside off stump as much as possible. So far in Powerplays, where the batters focus purely on hitting rather than protecting their wickets, he has bowled mostly on good-length areas and successfully accomplished the team management’s demands. It would not have been possible if the KKR did not give him the chance straight away.

Despite being a veteran of taking 123 IPL wickets in 123 games, Umesh’s career in the cash-rich league did not go as fruitful as he would have desired. He was a prominent part of the KKR from 2014 to 2017 but was almost inevitable when he represented RCB in 2018. At the end of that season, he was among the top five wicket-takers, courtesy of picking up 20 scalps at an average of 20.90, while maintaining an economy rate of under eight (7.86).

The IPL 2019 did not go well for Umesh at RCB. He only managed to snare eight wickets in 11 outings at an expensive economy rate of 9.80 and because of that, the franchise released him before the next season. The DC roped him in, but only gave him the chance twice in two seasons to prove his worth. Though, the emergence of Avesh Khan in IPL 2021 was one of the primary reasons for the Nagpur-born cricketer to be sidelined.

It could not have been a more perfect homecoming for Umesh at KKR, a franchise with which he lifted the title in 2014. But yet, despite bowling at 140 kph more often than not, he has not been a part of India’s pace setup in limited-overs cricket for some time now. Although he has been impressive for India in Test cricket (158 wickets in 52 Tests), his bowling records in ODIs (106 wickets in 75 matches) and T20Is (Nine wickets in seven matches) are not the worst either. 

India’s next major challenge will be the T20 World Cup in Australia later this year. They would need someone who can be a specialist bowler in Powerplays with accurate line and lengths, alongside Jasprit Bumrah. Considering Umesh’s recent run of form in IPL, it would not be a major surprise if he makes the cut in the squad. Though, his competition will be primarily against two of the familiar faces of Indian cricket, Deepak Chahar and Mohammed Shami. There are lots of others as well to vacate spots, including Avesh and Mohammed Siraj, who can generate the same pace like Umesh if not more.

Given the fact that bowling in T20s is exceptionally difficult, consistency will play the key here. But for now surely, Umesh has become a contender for booking a ticket to Australia.

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