Hyderabad: Manning India's pace attack alone for nearly the entire first day's play, fast bowler Umesh Yadav, displayed a sterling performance on a banal surface at Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium in Uppal.
Debutant Shardul Thakur left the field after suffering a strain in his groin while bowling only his second over in Test cricket. Umesh, led the fast bowling all by himself taking three important wickets at three different junctures of the opening day.
First, Umesh trapped a well-settled Shai Hope at the fag end of the morning session giving India the advantage going into Lunch. Umesh returned to end a stocky 69-run partnership for the sixth wicket between Roston Chase and wicket-keeper batsman Shane Dowrich, thereby cutting short Windies' path to recovery. Umesh got the old ball to reverse into Dowrich and got him leg before wicket.
The Vidharbha pacer continued to bowl with a lot of rigor and was rewarded with his third wicket in his 22nd over of the day, this time with the second new-ball. Umesh broke Windies' first hundred-run stand in this series, getting the only wicket of the session with Jason Holder faltering just before close of play.
Umesh brought back India into the game on three different occasions and for all we know he might have his say early on the second day too.
In what now seems to be an extension of Umesh's brilliant run during 2016-2017 home season, there is a strong case he is making for an inclusion in the playing XI of the first Test during India's tour of Australia.
With perhaps a unanimous agreement over the current lot of pace bowlers being the best India have had in their cricketing history, it is very difficult for a bowler to break into the XI. Umesh might have figured as much by now after missing out in the three Tests in South Africa, while getting a solitary game in the five-match series in England.
"We have a system where we rotate the bowlers so that they remain fresh and Umesh is a part of that (policy). We are extremely confident about what Umesh can bring to the table," said bowling coach Bharat Arun a couple of days ago when he also mentioned how 'unfortunate' Umesh was in terms of not getting enough opportunities to play in England and South Africa.
The Indian team management have in the recent past backed the in-form players having little criteria for reputation. (Case in point: Rohit Sharma playing ahead of Ajinkya Rahane in the first two Tests in South Africa as Rohit was in better nick than his Mumbai teammate during the preceding home series against Sri Lanka.)
The rotational policy that the Indian team management talks about has seen Umesh managing the workload in India while other bowlers have been rested for the series in overseas. However, it is only fair to Umesh's good home run that he gets a fair run of opportunities in overseas conditions before he is left out.
Out of the 18 matches that India have played since August 2016, Umesh has played a part in 17. Second in line Mohammed Shami, has played around half the number of Tests (nine), while Ishant Sharma has played eight. Bhuvneshwar Kumar took part in five and Jasprit Bumrah is yet to play a Test in India.
India could have tried out Umesh in dead rubbers that India played in South Africa and England, if the rotation policy is truly their credo, and that would have given him the chance to showcase his quality and the management an opportunity to assess him. Even if he is left out, the fast bowler must be managed better and handled with care.
Perennial workhorse Umesh hasn't enjoyed the luxury of bowling in more conducive conditions than some of his colleagues have. However, he has been India's go-to bowler when it comes to the flat Indian decks that barely provide for some assistance.
With the Australian pitches also being considerably flat in recent times, Umesh is more than prepared to bowl in the tour.
Umesh's numbers have also shown that he is constantly improving as a bowler. His evolution has taken him from being a sporadic wicket-taker to a genuine wicket taker and he has even bettered his control helping him curb the leakage of runs, which was one of his long-standing criticism. Umesh now compliments his bowling partner from the other end as well – be it a pacer or a spinner. He has been equally effective with the old and the new ball, and picking three wickets in three different match situations against Windies has underlined his credentials.
Before 2017, he picked 68 wickets in 26 Tests at 62.6 and averaging 38.94, since 2017, Umesh's improvement has been noteworthy. In 14 Tests from the start of 2017, the pacer has bagged 42 wickets at an impressive strike rate of 49.5 and a terrific average of 27.28.
If the two tests against Windies is going to serve as any marker for the playing XI in Australia, it will be very difficult for the selectors to make him sit.
Pragmatic Umesh too has his eyes set on the tour ahead and is no mood to cling on to the past.
"If I keep thinking about the past, then I won't be able to focus on the future. It's past and I am looking ahead. I don't want to dwell on the matches that have gone by. My thinking is that I should try and perform well in the future matches and help my team," he said in the post-match conference after the first day's play of the Hyderabad test.
The Indian bowling attack has been rife in South Africa and England, picking 20 wickets in six of the eight Tests that have been played. However, Umesh's usage as a cover for other bowlers to take rest is slightly harsh on a bowler who has proven himself time and again.
With well-rested Bhuvneshwar and Bumrah set to return for the Australia tour and Shami sitting out for this Test, Umesh could well be warming the bench for the firsts few Tests Down Under, but the 30-year old speedster has done everything within his powers to be worthy of getting a consistent string of opportunity in overseas Tests.
*Stats provided by Umang Pabari.