Cricket

Umesh Yadav and India's need for speed

Umesh Yadav makes an unexpected to return to India's T20I squad for the upcoming series against Australia after COVID-19 ruled out Mohammed Shami. The experienced seamer can bowl at more than decent pace and has the ability to make early inroads.

Umesh Yadav and India's need for speed

Umesh Yadav celebrates the wicket of Mayank Agarwal during the 8th match of IPL 2022 between KKR and PBKS. Sportzpics

It was only just a few days ago that veteran India pacer Umesh Yadav’s stint with England’s county side Middlesex was said to have come to an abrupt end due to a thigh muscle injury he sustained during a Royal London One Day Cup game against Gloucestershire in August.

“Middlesex Cricket regrets to announce that we have been made aware that Umesh Yadav will not be returning to London to finish the season with the Club and will play no further part in Middlesex’s County Championship run-in due to an ongoing injury to his quad muscle,” Middlesex CCC had issued in a statement on 17 September.

Following the injury, Umesh then returned to India, where he was undergoing rehabilitation at the National Cricket Academy (NCA) in Bengaluru.

However, in a move that probably nobody would have seen coming, on 18 September, Umesh Yadav was drafted into the Team India squad for the upcoming T20I series against Australia, starting on Tuesday (20 September). His recall to the India limited-overs side came on the back of Mohammed Shami testing positive for COVID-19, and eventually having been forced to miss out on the Australia T20Is.

Notably, Umesh Yadav last played a limited-overs game for India three years back, against Australia in February 2019 in a T20I in Vishakaptnam. Shami, too, had been out of Team India’s T20I playing XI for quite a while now, and had last played a T20I against Namibia in November 2021 during the T20 World Cup in UAE.

Not everyone was happy with Umesh Yadav’s selection in the team. Former India cricketer Aakash Chopra took to Twitter to express his views, saying that ‘plans had gone awry’ for the Men in Blue.

“Since the last World Cup, India has played loads of T20i games but Md. Shami and Umesh Yadav didn’t feature in any one of them…and with just four weeks to the World Cup, both have become a part of the plans. Plans gone a little awry?,” Chopra had tweeted on Sunday.

The team management could have gone ahead with the likes of Mohammad Siraj, but skipper Rohit Sharma explained the reasoning behind Yadav’s selection, saying players like Umesh had proven themselves irrespective of the format.

“There were few options, but few of them are injured like Prasidh (Krishna),” Rohit said at the press conference on Sunday.

“Siraj is playing county, we do not want him to fly all the way, maybe play one or two games. That won’t be fair. Avesh was quite sick in the Asia Cup and he needs some time to recover. From fitness point of view, he needed some time and rebuild his fitness. All those things were considered,” Rohit had said.

“Guys like Umesh, Shami, who have been bowling for a long time, they do not need to be playing a format to be considered,” commented the skipper.

“They have proven themselves as players in whichever format they have played. We understand the quality, it is the new guys on whom it will depend whether they have played this format or not. But guys like Umesh and Shami, if they are fit and fine, they will be called back. We don’t need to look at their form, we saw how Umesh bowled in the IPL,” Rohit commented.

Unsold twice, bought by KKR in third round

Umesh Yadav’s stint with Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) in IPL 2022 was a massive turning point for him this year. Yadav had only played two games for Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) in IPL 2020, and did not play a single match for Delhi Capitals (DC) in 2021.

At the IPL 2022 player auction, Yadav went unsold not once, but twice, and it was only in the third round that Umesh finally found buyers in KKR, who snapped him up for a base price of Rs 2 crore.

And boy, he delivered! KKR did miss out on the playoffs this season, but Umesh, who can swing the ball naturally, made full use of the new-ball inside the powerplay overs. Umesh went onto scalp eight wickets inside the powerplay phase at an economy rate of 6.41, and eventually went onto finish the season with 16 wickets from 12 games at an economy rate of 7.06. He eventually ended up as KKR’s second-highest wicket taker this season, behind Andre Russell (17 wickets).

Memorable county stint with Middlesex

Following the IPL, Umesh Yadav was in July this year called up as replacement for Pakistan’s Shaheen Shah Afridi at Middlesex County Cricket Club. Umesh was among the several Indian cricketers to play county cricket in England this season, with Cheteshwar Pujara (Sussex, Washington Sundar (Lancashire) and Krunal Pandya (Warwickshire) being other notable players.

Umesh impressed right away on his Middlesex debut, cleaning up Worcestershire’s Taylor Cornall during a County Championship Division Two game in July.

Those were early signs of what Yadav could do with the ball on his day. Umesh rattled the stumps with an in-swinging delivery, and Taylor tried to defend it, but was beaten for pace and eventually the ball sent the stumps flying.

Fast forward to 7 August, in only his second Royal London One Day Cup match, Umesh dished out another impressive performance with a five-wicket haul against Durham to end with figures of 5/33. He began by cleaning up opener Graham Clark in the very first over of the innings, before trapping Durham skipper Scott Borthwick for LBW in the third. It took a while before Umesh removed Liam Trevaskis in the 29th over, but the seamer would then complete his five-wicket haul with the dismissals of Oliver Gibson and Chris Rushworth towards the end of the innings. That turned out to be a match-winning affair with Middlesex eventually sealing the game with nine wickets to spare, on the back of an unbeaten 146 from skipper Stephen Eskinazi.

Umesh’s party would not end there. The 34-year-old went on to scalp 10 wickets from the next four Royal London One Day games for Middlesex, with his figures reading 3/52, 4/54, 2/58 and 1/41.

Notably, the only time he went wicketless during the one-day tournament was his last game for Middlesex, when he ended with figures of 0/26 in a game where he sustained a thigh muscle injury, which eventually ended his county stint.

Yadav would eventually go onto finish the one-day tournament with 16 wickets from seven games at an economy of 5.17.

Over the years, Umesh Yadav has largely been a Test specialist, but the upcoming series against Australia offers an opportunity for himself to prove so otherwise. Umesh has hardly been a T20I specialist for India. To put things into perspective, the Vidarbha pacer has played only seven T20Is since his debut in 2012, and has picked nine wickets from those seven games.

With just one month to go for the 2022 T20 World Cup in Australia, one might not conclude that Umesh Yadav is a certainty for the showpiece event given the timing of his return to the side. But his skillset does give the management an option inside the powerplay, and pace + swing is a combo no captain would want to refuse.

In the current Indian squad, apart from Jasprit Bumrah, no one is express pace or can consistently clock higher 140s. Umesh gives that option and can run through any batting order on his day.

‘It feels good… ‘

A week back, nobody would have thought Umesh will return to the white-ball set-up as his name wasn’t doing the rounds and didn’t even feature in the standbys for the squads announced for the T20Is vs Australia, South Africa and the World Cup.

Umesh, however, is not reading too much into all this and is looking to contribute for India whenever the opportunity comes his way.

“I like to think that I am pretty fit for someone my age and I am bowling well too. It feels good to be selected for the country, just looking forward to contributing whenever I get the chance,” Umesh told in an interview with journalist Vimal Kumar.

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Updated Date: September 19, 2022 17:49:31 IST

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