The ongoing India-South Africa game at Ranchi is the 271st Test on Indian soil, all but one of which have featured India (the only exception being the Afghanistan-Ireland clash at Dehradun last year). Through those 270 Tests, there have been 98 Indians who can broadly be classified as ‘pace’ bowlers, who have combined for a total of 1251 wickets. 37 of those 98 Indian pacers have played 10 or more Tests on Indian soil.
Prior to Monday, not once had an Indian fast bowler registered a run of five successive innings with at least three wickets on home soil. And only one bowler – Courtney Walsh – among the 449 total pacers to have bowled on Indian soil in 86 years could lay claim to the feat.
Umesh Yadav’s figures from his last five completed innings in India? 6/88, 4/45, 3/37, 3/22, 3/40. And if he can take one of the two remaining South African wickets on the fourth morning, that run will extend to six (one short of Walsh’s record).
While this present burst is spectacular, Yadav has actually been quite a sensational asset for India when playing at home, both in the recent past as well as in the overall ambit of his career.
A cursory glance at his numbers is enough to showcase how the Vidarbha-hailing pacer is quite the aberration from quality Indian pacers’ standards – Yadav averages 42.19 in away Tests, where he requires more than 60 balls to take a wicket; at home, the averages dips significantly to 25.90, while he takes less than 50 balls to strike for his team.
In his last five Tests at home (including the ongoing one at Ranchi), Yadav has 26 wickets at an average of 13.34 and a strike rate of 24.1.
What makes this recent rampaging run all-the-more impressive is that he’s managing these returns despite a constant spate of being in-and-out of the team. Look at how often he’s found himself warming the benches for the Indian Test setup over the last two years: played two out of three Tests when Sri Lanka came visiting towards the end of 2017 (largely only thanks to workload management keeping certain players out), didn’t feature in the three Tests in South Africa, played the one-off against Afghanistan, featured in only one of the five Tests in England, made it back for the two home Tests against West Indies (with Bumrah rested), made the cut for just one of the four Tests in Australia, didn’t make it for the opening game of this series.
It could have made for an easy excuse in case he ended up being a non-performer – how does one hit the right stride when they are in one day, out the other? But Yadav hasn’t fallen in that category, probably realising that in this Indian setup, helmed by Virat Kohli and Ravi Shastri, ‘horses for courses’ is a lasting philosophy – and he knows he is the horse for this particular course.
Yadav’s reverse-swinging capabilities have been a USP for him; his ability to extract juice out of a softening ball on a third or fourth-day track at home making him a bit of a standout compared to conventional Indian fast bowlers. This is the skill that helps him make the cut, when he does.
That’s where this present sample of the two Tests he’s got to play against the Proteas adds another layer to the soon-to-be 32-year-old’s burgeoning credentials: Yadav has struck with the new ball in each of the four innings – at Pune, he took two wickets in his first two overs in the first innings, and one in his third over in the second; at Ranchi, he removed Quinton de Kock in his first over on both occasions.
And even if you ignore the rest of his nine wickets through these two games, just those two peaches to dismiss de Kock could linger long in the memory – a rip-roaring bouncer the first time, a full swinging one to castle the stumps the second.
At Ranchi, he’s also stood out for the manner in which he’s taken no time to ‘warm up’: Yadav took a wicket in his first over of the first innings on Day 2 (de Kock), his first over of the third morning (Faf du Plessis) and his first over of the second innings (de Kock again). All three will make any highlights reel.
What his effort over the past two weeks does is add further elation to that oh-so-joyous feeling around India’s burgeoning, once-in-a-lifetime stock.
Remember: India’s senior-most fast bowler was rested for this game, and India’s most thrilling pace discovery is yet to play a Test match on home soil.
Ishant Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav (and that’s not counting Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who averages 26 both at home and away).
The mouth has been watering at the prospect of India – yes, the so-called land of spin and spinners – fielding a four-pronged arsenal in pace-friendly conditions. Sure, it may have backfired the one time they were assembled together, at Perth in 2018 – but that was more to do with a misreading of conditions than a lack of ability on their part.
Such in the utopian land that Indian cricket is dwelling in at the moment, that the romantics may even begin fantasising about the impossible: India going all guns blazing at home – and you know what, that thought seems less outlandish now than it may have at any given point in the history of Indian cricket.