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Umesh Yadav returns to script latest chapter in his India story

India v Australia - T20I: Game 1
Can Umesh Yadav make an impact in T20Is for India?

It’s February 2022, the IPL Auction has rattled along at breakneck speed and as always, there have been several players who have gone unsold at the first time of asking; Umesh Yadav, rather surprisingly, is one of those. The fast bowler has not played T20I cricket for India and spent much of IPL 2021 on the side-lines, nursing an injury.

But he was part of the Delhi Capitals squad – a team that ultimately unearthed Avesh Khan. Interestingly enough, Avesh fetches himself a massive big at the auction, metaphorically indicating how franchises were more inclined to gamble on an upcoming bowler than someone with as much experience as Umesh.

Umesh eventually bags himself a contract. Kolkata Knight Riders, with whom he had enjoyed his finest IPL hours, places faith in him. Despite that, it feels a purchase made because all of the other options were exhausted and they simply did not have enough purse to spend exorbitantly on someone in the national T20I scheme of things.

Within a matter of weeks, though, that narrative changed drastically. Umesh shot to IPL stardom once again, this time, using his skill with the new ball. In the early 2010s, his ability to hit yorkers and use a hint of reverse-swing set him apart. Now, here he was, wreaking havoc in the powerplay and making exceptional T20 batters look pretty ordinary.

Umesh Yadav last played T20I cricket in 2019

It also happened at a time when Umesh had fallen by the white-ball wayside, at least when talking about the Indian cricket team. His last T20I appearance was against Australia at Vishakhapatnam in 2019. His last ODI appearance was against the West Indies at the same venue a year earlier. He has since become a very dependable red-ball bowler, although that came at the cost of plummeting limited-overs stocks.

What was refreshing during this upturn was the way he backed himself. He regularly bowled in the powerplay, and never seemed content with just containing the opposition. During the field restrictions, he picked up eight wickets, conceding 6.41 runs per over. His form tailed off towards the end, largely because of a niggle he picked up. But his renaissance in the first half of games was enough for people to drool over what he could bring to the table, if India were to look in his direction.

At the time, that might have seemed an absurd suggestion. Since Umesh had been absent from India’s white-ball setup, they had tried numerous alternatives and each seemed better equipped for the shortest format than the KKR pacer. Things, though, have changed since the Asia Cup debacle. Having been unable to defend a score twice in the Super Four stage, India have felt the need to prioritize relative veterans over greenhorns and players with potential.

Rohit Sharma on Umesh Yadav’s selection to the Indian squad for the Australia T20I series 🗣️🇮🇳#India #TeamIndia #INDvAUS #CricketTwitter https://t.co/vVShEmfb59

This change in tack meant Mohammad Shami was recalled into the squad. Shami, for context, has not played T20I cricket since November 2021 either. Unfortunately, he contracted COVID-19, meaning that India have had to look for a replacement thereafter. They could have tried someone who has played T20I cricket more recently. Avesh Khan, Mohammed Siraj, Prasidh Krishna, Shardul Thakur and Umran Malik have all played international white-ball cricket in some capacity lately. Instead, they have gone for Umesh.

There is a bit of reason behind it too. He has a tendency to leak runs but has historically been good in Australia. So, if India are pressed into that sort of scenario for the T20 World Cup, they will at least have someone who knows his way around in Australia. The Vidarbha fast bowler was also very impressive during his recent Middlesex stint, where he topped their wicket-taking charts during the Royal London One Day Cup – a fifty-over competition.

Umesh also seems a much more complete bowler than he was when he last played T20I cricket for India. He still has a tendency to leak runs but he has developed a mechanism to offset it by being irresistible in the powerplay. And, if it comes to it, he can hit a long ball, although this might not have really been a primary concern or tilting scale.

Either way, from a narrative perspective, you could not have written a script like this. Till about six months ago, there was absolutely no clarity on how Umesh’s T20 career would proceed. He had hardly played in IPL 2021 and there were real concerns that he would be left cooling his heels in IPL 2022. Then, KKR arrived with a bid and snapped him up for his base price, leaving many in the room wondering what they had up their sleeve.

To Umesh’s credit, he has repaid that faith superbly, hence the inclusion in India’s squad to face Australia. This is, most certainly, not the trajectory many thought he would traverse. People had almost written him off, often bringing up his expensive death-overs record to criticise him and induct him into imaginary clubs that were meant to ridicule whatever he did. But now, he has a chance to set it all right.

Feb 2022 ⏩️ Sep 2022Memorable comeback for Umesh Yadav! ✨🇮🇳#India #TeamIndia #INDvAUS #CricketTwitter https://t.co/HwsbIr8Jha

Sometimes, life turns out in funny ways. The format that you seem least suited to suddenly becomes your shot at redemption. A story that seems to have reached its conclusion finds a new lease of life, even forcing you to write a new chapter. Most importantly, a race that seemed to have run its course, restarts from the starting line, giving someone an opportunity to shelve his/her past baggage and dispel whatever lingering doubts remain.

Umesh’s life has taken that turn. Even his staunchest supporters might not have envisioned him possibly donning the India blue in T20I cricket this home summer. But now that he will have that honour, he will be hoping he can make the most of it, and make people believe that he still has plenty left in his T20I tank.

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Edited by Prasen Moudgal
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