Paceman Umesh Yadav has featured in 41 Tests, 75 ODIs, 7 T20Is, 144 T20s. But for all this wealth of experience, he has not looked the part in even one of the 9 IPL matches this season.
His fellow India fast bowlers, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami and Bhuvaneshwar Kumar have often put their hand up and been leaders of the pack in their respective IPL franchises. Even Ishant Sharma, whose bowling, many pundits feared would not suit the requirements of white ball cricket, has had his moments. Not Yadav, though.
The Vidarbha pacer, who has taken over 100 international wickets in both Tests and ODIs, has been playing for India since May 2010. Naturally, with such rich experience and an impressive haul of wickets, it was only natural for Royal Challengers Bangalore fans and team management to expect him to lead at least the Indian contingent of pacers comprising rookie Navdeep Saini, a nervous Mohammed Siraj or even raw medium pacer Shivam Dube.
But at no time did Yadav look like he was going to take ownership of the brigade and guide them through challenging times. If anything, it looked like he needed more help than, say, Saini. So much so, skipper Virat Kohli scarcely turned to him in moments of crisis.
It is true that Yadav’s bowling has dropped in pace. Earlier he could be expected to consistently bowl in the mid to high-140 kmph range. He also had a lovely late outswinger which could be a handful whenever he operated with the shiny, new ball.
However, in this IPL, Yadav has been bowling only in the mid-130s with the occasional delivery cranked up to 140-odd kmph. Usually, this sort of drop in pace is offset by better control and a certain degree of smart bowling.
Dale Steyn, for instance, is no longer the tearaway pacer of the past. During his first stint with RCB, a decade ago, he could blow away batsmen with raw pace, often exceeding 150 kmph. But the Steyn who was signed up midway through this IPL season to replace Aussie Nathan-Coulter Nile showed a different approach.
He was as earnest and hard-working as before. But where he had lost out on pace he made up with late swing and better control. He quickly stamped his presence with early wickets in the couple of matches he played before a shoulder injury laid him low.
RCB squad selection centered around their domestic and foreign batsmen – Kohli, AB de Villiers, Shimron Hetmeyer, Moeen Ali, Marcus Stoinis, et al getting the runs and local bowlers, Yadav, Saini, Siraj, Yuzvendra Chahal, Pawan Negi delivering the goods alongside Coulter-Nile and Tim Southee.
However, the non-appearance of Coulter-Nile and poor bowling of Southee threw the bowling unit off gear. Yadav should have stepped up and become the focal point of the pacers. That was not to be. His bowling, while certainly not as effective as last year’s, hardly inspired confidence.
Bowling coach Ashish Nehra claimed that his failure to make the Indian World Cup squad even as standby shattered his confidence. The point, though, is that he did not look the part even before the squad was announced. In fact, a good showing in the IPL matches might well have gained him a berth as fourth paceman or even standby. Instead, his form was so poor that the selectors and maybe even his skipper Kohli had no time for him.
Nehra was right when he stated that there was precious little he could do for him. “Even the bowler knows he is not bowling well. So there’s no point in harping about that. At best I can only boost his confidence,” he said.
Obviously, the pep talk did not work as events during Sunday’s crucial match against Delhi Capitals proved. Yadav would bowl on the leg side when he had a field set for off stump. He would pitch short when he actually had to bowl up. The 16 runs conceded in the 19th over through a series of bad deliveries sealed RCB’s fate.
Unfortunately, this had been the tale from the start of the season. The last two IPL seasons, Yadav picked up 20 and 17 wickets apiece at an average of 20.9 and 24.1 (economy rate 7.8 & 8.4 respectively). This season his 8 wickets have come at a whopping average of 39.37 (economy rate of 9.6).
Had 31-year-old Yadav, the most experienced pacer in RCB ranks had at least 2 or 3 good matches, the bowling unit as a whole would have picked up. That was not to be and RCB’s season of discontent just got magnified.