Nobody would ever claim that India is the land of great fast bowlers. That characterization is more befitting of the West Indies, or Australia, or Pakistan perhaps. India has, undoubtedly, produced some excellent ones: first among them is Kapil Dev, he of the great, God-given outswinger, and there was also Amar Singh, Javagal Srinath and Zaheer Khan. India is more known for its list of classy, wristy, elegant batsmen and its long line of world-class spinners.
But “the times they are a changing.” Currently, India has more fast bowling riches than at any other time in its cricketing history. In Ishant Sharma, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Varun Aaron, Umesh Yadav and Mohammad Shami, India has bowlers that run the gamut of fast bowling assets: pace, accuracy, seam and swing. With new ball and old, there are members of that unit capable of incisiveness and control.
One of the most impressive members of the pack is Umesh Yadav. In Dharmasala in Australia’s second innings, on a surface more reminiscent of Perth in the old days in terms of pace and carry than any in India, Yadav bowled with fire and fury to inflict serious damage on their top order. He dismissed both openers.
David Warner, continuing his barren run, was caught behind off one that shifted away slightly as it went across him, while Matthew Renshaw, who showed uncommon stubbornness during the series, awkwardly edged one that appeared to lift more than he expected.
It was a high-class spell bowled at consistently demanding pace with the control, aggression and subtlety of the high-class performer into which Umesh has grown. But it was just the latest outstanding performance in a season of outstanding performances by the pacer.
Umesh’s mastery of contrast swing has been especially impressive. Expertly using the aging ball, the sturdily-built pacer has exhibited rare skill in urging deliveries to deviate in both directions, often to the befuddlement of capable batsmen.When pundits expressed surprise after the first day of the Pune Test that Umesh was not introduced until the 28th over, India’s batting coach Sanjay Bangar relayed that it was all part of the team’s plan: “Umesh has been to known to bowl well with the old ball. Even in the series against England, you could see he got a lot of reverse swing. We had held him back, expecting that the ball would reverse-swing pretty early in the innings. It was the precise plan to hold him back as there were two left-handers at the top of the order.”
He joined the attack and struck almost immediately, hitting Warner’s stumps with his second legal delivery. He went on to capture 4/32.
I dunno about the MoM & MoS. But there should a Man of the season award and that should be given to Umesh Yadav! What a revelation! #INDvAUS
— Aishu Haridas (@imaishu_) March 27, 2017
He has not reaped the rewards his bowling deserved: catches were dropped; batsmen played and missed…a lot.Witnessing batsmen failing to locate deliveries must count as some kind of triumph for the bowler, though, without doubt, he’d have much preferred more balls bruising bat edges.
Having made his Test debut against the West Indies in Delhi in November 2011, it has indeed taken a while for Umesh to blossom into the bowler he now appears to be. He captured only two second-innings wickets in that outing, but it was apparent by the pace and swing he extracted that he possessed, in some abundance, the raw material necessary to rise to the top of the pace bowling profession.
That he has taken this long to get there is mainly down to inconsistency, though he has also had bouts of injuries. Always capable of bowling the decidedly demanding delivery, the loose ball was never far away. And he bowled too many of those to maintain pressure and restrict runs.
But like a caterpillar into a butterfly, he has been transformed. A radar that was once awry is now finely calibrated.And batsmen who knew they could keep out the good one, knowing the four-ball would not be far away, are now rigorously tested almost every ball.
Umesh has attributed his improved performance to improved confidence, borne out of a long run in the side, and hard work. “Usually, I used to be in and out of the team and so I didn’t understand what to do but as I started playing more matches, I was just focusing on my bowling – what I should do and what I shouldn’t,” the fast bowler said during the Ranchi Test. “I have figured out what my bowling is, where I must bowl, what my weaknesses are, and what my strengths are. Earlier, there was criticism in the media that I bowled a lot on the leg stump, and conceded boundaries on the leg side after building pressure for four balls. I have cut that down to a large extent.”
India is currently ranked number one in Tests. To maintain that status they will need to win Test matches abroad against the top teams. Ashwin, Jadeja and the rest of their battery of spinners are good enough to thrive in foreign conditions, but they won’t have things their own way as they sometimes do in home conditions. India is going to need first-class fast bowling to flourish in Australia and England and South Africa.
The transformed Umesh will be vital to India’s wicket-taking plans. Kohli, Kumble and the rest of the team’s leaders will be eager for him to remain fit, fresh, and in-form.