At the start of the fourth day of India’s one-off Test against Bangladesh in Hyderabad, Indian captain Virat Kohli initially threw the ball to right arm quick Umesh Yadav to bowl the first over, but as Yadav marked out his run-up, Kohli was seen to approach him and hand the ball instead to right arm medium Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who bowled ninteen year old all-rounder Mehedy Hasan off the fourth ball of the day.
The incident left many wondering what had suddenly changed Kohli’s mind.
In Pune for the first Test against Australia, Yadav was the fifth bowler, introduced in the twenty-eighth over after three spinners had bowled with the new ball. That in a nutshell is how Yadav has been generally perceived.
Yadav began India’s home season as the least favoured of all the bowlers. He played second fiddle to Mohammed Shami at Kanpur in the first Test against New Zealand, and was left out in Kolkata for the second Test in favour of Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who responded with a five-for before getting injured. Yadav then got his place back, and has not missed a single game since.
After the third Test, Yadav became one of the go-to men for Kohli, and began to fulfil the potential he promised for years. For the first time in his career, he must feel as secure of his place in the team as do Ashwin and Jadeja.
Pacey, skiddy, and erratic were some of the words which often described Yadav’s bowling in the past. He rarely had the captain’s confidence, and often got dropped or had the ball snatched from him. But the one thing Yadav had which none of the current Indian bowlers have is consistency in pace and fitness. He has been 100 percent fit for all the matches, and that has played a big part in him playing more games than any other pace bowler in the squad. Even Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who was preferred when the season started, has had to sit out despite his own consistent performances, and it is this which reveals the value of Umesh Yadav. Virat Kohli has always been vocal about preferring bowlers who generate the pace through the air which is a key element on the slow dry Indian pitches. Yadav offers him much more than that; he has the pace, control, and reverse swing which few would have associated with him a couple of seasons ago.
Yadav has also learned how to set batsmen up. We more frequently see him bowling thoughtfully to a plan. Throughout the home season, Yadav has been quietly choking opponents, building serious pressure while his bowling partners harvest wickets from the other end. Previously guilty of regularly bowling loose balls, his economy rate for this season is 3.10, down from a career rate of 3.60. He no longer simply runs in and lets it rip, leaving it to the batsman to make a mistake. Instead he is forcing them into errors by clever use of the crease, bowling from different angles and using the short ball effectively while occasionally slipping in full length in-swingers.
Yadav’s season average before the start of the Australia series was 54.23, with a strike rate of 104.69. Taken in isolation, these numbers would rule him out of the squad, but numbers don’t always portray the real picture. His average for the series is 23.41, which is better than Ashwin’s 27.38 and second only to Jadeja’s 18.55, and his 17 wickets is the joint most by an Indian fast bowler in a home series with four or fewer Tests, alongside Javagal Srinath.
It remains for Kohli and the India team management to continue showing faith in Umesh Yadav. Fans can hope he is very close to his peak, and if he reaches that, Indian bowling will be as formidable as it has ever been.