Umesh Yadav: 'If I get an opportunity in T20Is, I want to grab it with both hands' says pacer ahead of India's tour of New Zealand (Exclusive)
In January 2009, Central Zone and South Zone squared off in the Duleep Trophy at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium. Both outfits comprised stalwarts of Indian cricket, considering the likes of Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman had taken time out to participate in the encounter. Yet, on those breezy afternoons, it was arguably the most unheralded cricketer that made the largest splash.
After winning the toss, South Zone decided to bat first, meaning that the crowd were thrilled about the prospect of watching Dravid and Laxman bat in domestic competition. Yet, their hopes were dashed rather spectacularly when a bustling fast bowler from the relative obscurity of Vidarbha rocked up and wreaked havoc. And, courtesy a superlative five-wicket haul, on the 22nd of January, a certain Umesh Yadav had outlined his credentials.
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Since then, the pacer has gone on to represent India numerous times, across formats, thereby casting himself as one of the nation’s premier speedsters. For a while though, post the 2015 World Cup, Umesh endured a slightly patchy phase, wherein several questioned his suitability to international cricket.
However, akin to the way he grit his teeth to morph into a household name from an unknown entity, the pacer persevered, eventually carving a niche for himself in the Indian Test scenery through 2018 and 2019.
Subsequently, over the course of the past few months, the swing and zip that characterized his meteoric early rise has resurfaced, although it went missing for a bit of the previous decade.
In an exclusive chat with Sportskeeda, Umesh opened up on what aspects he had mended, in addition to a better wrist position. He said -
Everyone wants the action they started with to remain the same. But, certain things change involuntarily, like my action or my load-up changed slightly. Then, I saw videos of my early career and thought that I should go back to that action.
In 2009-10, I changed my action slightly after an injury but sometimes you can’t understand why the action is changing. But, I feel that the way you start your career, you should maintain it because your body is more used to it. Also, with experience, you come to know how to plan better and that has also contributed to me doing well in the past few months.
Unsurprisingly, Umesh, after digging deep into his bowling reserves, scalped 23 wickets across four Tests against Bangladesh and South Africa. Thus, all eyes have inevitably turned towards India's impending tour to New Zealand, where the pacer is expected to play a stellar role, despite the return of Jasprit Bumrah. He quipped -
I want to continue the way I am performing and I want to keep hitting the lines and lengths I have been able to bowl recently. Obviously, there is healthy competition and it is a challenge but I am gearing up for it. Also, I have majorly played Test matches in Asian countries. Thus, I want to make my chances count if I get the nod against New Zealand.
Additionally, the fast bowler opined on how four-day Tests might not be the right way forward. He mentioned that he loved the fact that matches could go into the fifth day, wherein factors like spin or reverse swing could play a major part. However, if it were to be reduced to four days, those facets might go amiss and those encounters might not be a real ‘Test’ between batsmen and bowlers.
Despite the unparalleled success in the longest format, Umesh hasn’t endured the best of fortunes in white-ball cricket, meaning that his last appearance for India came against Australia in March 2019. On being asked how white-ball cricket differs from Test matches and what he felt about his chances for the upcoming T20 World Cup, he stated -
I feel white-ball cricket is something that you need to get used to. The more you play, the better placed you are to tackle certain situations. Personally, I haven’t played a lot of white ball cricket recently and my last T20I game was against Australia in 2019.
Also, I missed the domestic white-ball season because of Test commitments. Hence, I am not thinking too much about my selection but if given an opportunity, I want to grab it with both hands.
However, his absence from the limited-overs teams hasn’t stopped the pacer from adding further strings to his bows. The past couple of seasons have seen the fast-bowler pop up with crucial runs lower down the order, especially when India have needed to increase the tempo. He said,
When I got into the team, obviously a lot of concentration was only on my bowling. But, slowly, when I couldn’t perform with the bat, I felt that I could be doing more on that front. Even when I was playing tennis-ball cricket, I looked at myself as an all-rounder and I have been working hard to improve my batting and fortunately, it has come off for me at times.
The mention of tennis-ball cricket prompts one to delve deeper and reminisce Umesh’s journey and how he has acted as the beacon for countless kids from small towns. He elaborated on how the prospect of representing India never crossed his mind as a youngster and that once it came calling, he wanted to expend every ounce of effort to help his country win matches.
Consequently, one can't help but marvel at what the pacer has achieved, not just on the cricketing front but also as a role model for thousands of aspiring cricketers. To put things into perspective, at the turn of the decade, not many fast-bowlers were able to consistently clock speeds in excess of 140 kph and prodigiously move the ball in the air.
Yet, despite all odds being stacked against him in that regard, the thought of foregoing his USP has never crossed his mind, meaning that he has been able to serve a delectable brand of fast bowling to the world. And, though there have remained concerns about his accuracy in the past, Umesh Yadav 2.0 seems well equipped to swat away those criticisms and continue on the impressive upward trajectory he has charted.
Years ago, only a few hundreds in and around Nagpur rejoiced at the sight of a fast bowler making batsmen hop on the most docile of surfaces. But, now, that number runs into billions with each hoping to emulate Umesh’ success mantra.
And, that, above everything else, would end up defining the speedster adeptly, wouldn’t it?