There’s something about Umesh Yadav that you don’t understand by watching him on television; something you can’t feel as you watch him standing at the top of his run-up ready to unleash another thunderbolt at the batsmen; something that refuses to make sense – that goes against the grain of logical thought.
That something is the complete lack of self-preservation instinct.
Most of us don’t go running in the direction of danger. We hang back, observe the flow and then decide our next move. Not Yadav.
The bowler, who hails from Vidharbha, belongs to the endangered species of ‘fast’ bowlers. Not bowlers who trundle in and bowl at 130-135 km/h. He has something India’s finest bowlers didn’t have even in their prime – a manifestation of raw, scary pace and the intent to hurt. During the series in Australia, the 24-year-old routinely touched speeds in excess of 145 km/h, reaching the upper limit of 153 km/h.
The experts waxed eloquent about his action and his talent but the side-effects of bowling quick are many and most of them lead to a quick death in cricketing terms. Fast bowlers slam up to 20 times their body weight on to their front foot in delivery and that means that their bodies break much before their will.
In the past, we’ve seen many bowlers take the easy way out. They begin as express pacemen but before a season is through, they’ve reverted to medium-pace and the temptation of longevity is enough to warrant the change.
Yadav promises to be different. In an interview with Firstpost, he promises to live by the sword and die by it too. He promises there will be no falling back; no retreat; no refuge in the ordinary.
Wasim Akram and Ian Chappell have spoken about how you have a bright future. But what is a bright future for you? Is it playing for 10 years?
I guess what they really meant was that if I play to my potential and continue to learn, I will do well. But then again, the trick is to give your 100 percent every time you play. I know I am a fast bowler and I say that with a fair degree of pride. But I also know that I could get an injury tomorrow and that could be it. My career could end. Toh main lamba nahi sochta (I don’t want to dream about the future). I want it take it by match, by series. Sochne se kuch nahi hota hai. Effort bhi daalna padta hai (Just thinking about things achieves nothing. You have to put in effort as well.)
So obviously, to be at your best, you need to remain fit. How do you go about doing that? You look like the fittest Indian bowler in a long time…
I think the basis of fitness is the ability to run. Aur main bachpan se bhaag hi raha hoon (And I have been running since I was a child). Papa ne sikhaya tha ki kuch bhi karne ke liye, mehnat toh karni padegi, toh bus wohi kar raha hoon (My dad told me that to achieve anything in life, one has to work hard and that is what I am trying to do.) As a kid, I used to run the 100m, 400m and play football. I still try and do that when I have the time.
Football? That might send alarm bells ringing in some quarters…
I know that some people say that we should be concentrating just on our bowling but the thing is that the back and shoulder muscles are something that we work on during bowling practice anyway. But the workout needs to be balanced. Playing football, and I have been doing this for a while, keeps your hamstrings and glutes in good shape. So I will not stop doing it. And the running helps keep my stamina up for long spells. So after a week, I will be back to working out. I need to build up for the season ahead again.
You were one of India’s better bowlers during the Test series with 14 wickets @ 39.35. But quite often our bowlers were on the back foot. Australia’s batsmen scored big runs and their pacemen were superb. What did you learn from this experience?
It was my first tour of Australia and I was nervous. I had done well in the matches against the West Indies but this was a different challenge. I had heard that the conditions are good for fast bowlers and they were. But it’s not easy to find the right line and length. The lessons I have learned now, I will save for the next tour. But perhaps the biggest learning experience was that no matter what, you have to keep swimming, even if it’s against the tide. Apne aapko confident kaise rakhna seekha (I learned how to keep my confidence up in tough times). Mere liye accha tour tha but if the team isn’t doing well then does it really matter?
Was there ever a temptation to slow down – to preserve your body when you have to bowl long spells?
I’m a fast bowler. If I don’t bowl like that then what is the use? I never hold back. I go all out and that is how I’ll bowl throughout my career. That much I can promise you.
So would you say that you’ve settled into the strike bowler’s role? Are you India’s strike bowler?
It’s pretty clear. My captains have told me that it is my job to get wickets. It’s okay to give some runs but I have to get wickets. So for the moment, I know what I have to do. But if I stop getting wickets then I am in trouble.
When things get a little troublesome, who do you turn to for help?
Zak bhai (Zaheer Khan) was a big help. He was the first guy to come up to me and tell me to not worry when things weren’t going well. After the first Test, he came to my room and said: ‘Koi baat nahi, abhi start hai. Bus seekhte raho. Mere saath bhi aisa hua tha. But don’t lose heart.’ Those words helped me a lot. He also said that mentally you have to remain strong – you are still learning, so kabhi line kharab hogi, kabhi loose delivery hogi. But keep the faith in your abilities.
Your next tournament is likely to be the IPL. That’s where it all started for you in a sense. So how do you prepare for the slap-dash format?
The goal in T20 is completely different from Tests or ODIs. It’s four overs and the goal is to keep runs down. Keep the batsmen thinking, confuse them and if you do that, then you’ve succeeded. It’s not easy but then every format has it’s own challenges.