India is known for its batsmen. We have all grown up hearing tales of our batting legends. Be it Sunil Gavaskar taking on the great West Indies fast bowlers in the 1970s, or the 16-year-old Sachin Tendulkar fighting back after being hit on the nose by Pakistan's Waqar Younis, the history of Indian batting has never been short of romanticism.
Batting excites Indians, and elaborate epithets (‘The Wall’ or ‘Very Very Special’) have been common. Wake up any Indian in the middle of the night and ask him to narrate you an anecdote that involves our batters, and he will do so with the same pride that he had when he spoke about it for the first time.
Ask the same person to recount a story about our fast bowlers and he may not be able to do so with the same clarity. There would be a reference to a Kapil Dev or a Zaheer Khan or even a Javagal Srinath, but you will soon realise that cricket in India is more a game of batsmen than bowlers, especially fast bowlers.
It is only when a bowler hits the 140kph mark or more on the speed gun that he is taken note of in this batsmen-dominated country. Very few pacers in India have been able to pass that litmus test, but Umesh Yadav is one of those who have, and that has aided his quick rise.
The Vidharba pacer gave up studies after his higher secondary examinations. His subsequent attempt to become a police constable failed. With literally no career option left, Yadav started taking cricket seriously and began playing for Vidharba Gymkhana. Word spread of a young bowler bowling fast and thanks to his consistent performances, he was included in the state team for the 2008-'09 domestic season.
Known for his raw pace and ability to swing with the odd bouncer here and there, Yadav started his first-class career in 2008 for Vidharba in the Ranji Trophy Plate division delightfully. He ended up as the highest wicket-taker for his side with 20 wickets at an average of 14.6 that season.
He continued his good show the following season. His talent was seen on the world stage for the first time during the 2010 Indian Premier League (IPL). The fast bowler continued to impress in his debut season for the Delhi Daredevils.
Yadav was rewarded for his efforts when he replaced the injured Praveen Kumar in the Indian squad for the 2010 World T20. He was also named in the Indian Test squad for the tour of South Africa, but it wasn’t until 2011 that he made his debut in the West Indies. He picked nine wickets in that series and was included in the squad for the Australian series that followed.
India suffered a whitewash at the hands of Australia in 2011-'12 after a similar debacle in England earlier. But the series Down Under was probably Yadav’s best performance in his brief career. He was India’s second highest wicket-taker with 14 wickets which included his maiden five-wicket haul in Perth.
Since then Yadav has made steady progress. He has been an integral part of both the ODI and the Test sides. His contributions in the 2015 World Cup were instrumental in helping India reach the semi-final. He was the third highest wicket-taker in that tournament only behind Australia’s Mitchell Starc and New Zealand’s Trent Boult.
Yadav is known for his never-say-die spirit. In November 2015, Yadav was dropped for the second India-South Africa Test, following a poor outing in the first. But instead of being disappointed, he went onto play for Vidharba against Rajasthan in Ranji Trophy and took a hattrick. His spell of 4/45 in the first innings helped his side bundle out the opposition for just 216. And he picked up five wickets after returning to the Indian side for the fourth and the final Test.
However, this year, he has not picked up as many wickets as he would’ve liked in the five-day format and has been criticised for it. Experts have repeatedly talked about his erratic bowling and have insisted that he needs to improve his accuracy. During India’s tour of the West Indies in 2016, the Vidharba pacer managed to pick up five wickets in the first Test, but went wicketless in the second and was replaced by Bhuvneshwar Kumar in the third. In the New Zealand series that followed, he played two matches and could manage a mere two wickets with a horrible strike rate of 138 in both the matches.
However, he bettered his performance in the ODI series against the Black Caps. In the first match at Dharamsala, he removed opposition captain Kane Williamson and key batsman Ross Taylor on successive balls which sparked off a collapse for the Kiwis. He was India's best pacer in the series with eight wickets. He should look to carry this momentum into the five match Test series against England.
Yadav's only match against England was the first Test of the 2012 home series. The 29-year old picked up four wickets in that match. While the series is expected to be dominated by the spinners Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, the pacers will have to play their parts. But it remains to be seen whether Yadav features in the playing XI, with Ishant Sharma returning to the squad after recovering from chikungunya.
If he gets a chance, the 29-year-old should aim to bowl more disciplined spells to be among the wickets, something he’s been guilty of not doing. The Vidharba pacer is gifted with pace, but so far he’s not been able to make the most of it, something he would want to change against Alastair Cook’s men.
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