IPL 2018: Is this the second-coming of Umesh Yadav the white-ball bowler?
At just above the halfway mark of the 2018 Indian Premier League, there have been quite a few talking points about various teams.
One of those is the bowling attack of the Royal Challengers Bangalore and how they have failed to complement the batsmen in most games.
But not everything about their bowling is gloom and doom. Even amidst their misery, one man has stood alone - Umesh Yadav.
11 wickets in 8 matches at an economy of 8.34 puts him at the fifth spot on the list of highest wicket-takers eight matches into the tournament. The next best is Yuzvendra Chahal with seven wickets in as many matches.
India endured a fantastic harvest of Test cricket between July 2016 and March 2017 and arguably, one of the finest outcomes from those was the evolution of Yadav.
It almost seemed like bowling all those overs at various stages of the innings against quality opposition was what he wanted and you could see that from being a bowler who was characterised by sheer pace, he had turned into a bowler who backed speed with wickets.
Same though can't be said about his exploits in limited-overs cricket. Under MS Dhoni, he was used with the new ball and he got clattered to all parts, first with the new ball and then with the old.
Even in the last ODI that he played against Australia at Bengaluru, he proved to be a mixed bag, picking up four wickets but conceding 71 runs in his quota of 10 overs along the way.
The Yadav who bowled so well in the home season fetched his wickets with the ball, either aimed outside off-stump or at the base of it. When he tried to bowl the same length in limited-overs cricket, he did not get the same impact simply because the ball did nothing off the pitch and he was punished.
At the death, he has lacked the variation required to fox the batsmen, something that has made Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah so effective and as a result proved ineffective.
Heading into 2018, he would have hoped to have become a regular at least in the Test setup but that didn't turn out to be the case as he was benched in each of the three Test matches in South Africa.
And so the IPL held extra significance. He came into it with not such a big reputation in the T20 cricket, but in an attack that has largely bled and failed to stand up on more occasions than not, Yadav has stood out as the bright spot in the RCB bowling
What then has been the difference now?
1. The speed
Usually, the advice fast bowlers get from coaches to make improvements in their accuracy is to cut down on the speed and look for more direction.
That has not happened with Yadav and to the good fortune of RCB, he has clocked in impressive speeds along with landing the ball in the right areas.
It has aided that in Ashish Nehra he has a coach in the franchise who has told him to keep things simple.
In one of the earlier paragraphs, I spoke about how the fuller length has not worked for him in white-ball cricket.
Understanding that, Yadav in this IPL has looked to bowl more back-of-a-length and for a batsman to play a ball almost coming near his stomach or just above at that speed can prove to be a tough ask.
Also, the fact that he has looked to bowl within the stumps a lot more rather than going outside off-stump that has meant the batsmen have had to play the ball at most times and not leave them alone.
3.The captain's faith
Yadav began his Test career under the leadership of MS Dhoni, but it can be said that his best phase as a bowler has come while playing under the leadership of Virat Kohli.
What has helped him is the fact that Kohli loves pace. He likes bowlers who can make batsman hop, make them look for cover and it has helped Yadav to have a captain like that.
Kohli, it seems like, has identified Yadav as a bowler whose quota he can finish before the 15th over. There is no rule in T20 cricket that states that bowlers should bowl two overs up front and two at the back.
With Yadav, it does seem like not bowling at the end has helped him just go through his overs with lesser pressure.
He has backed that faith shown in him by his captain and been the side's best bowler in the competition yet.
With six matches to go in the League phase of the competition, Yadav will need to keep up the good work and hope silently somewhere to get more support from the other Indian bowlers.
It can't be said clearly yet whether this showing so far has lit up his chances to get back in the reckoning for a spot in the Indian limited-overs starting XI, but if he can sustain this performance, pick up wickets regularly and keep his fitness up, there is no reason why he can't become a regular across formats.
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