Tall and well-built fast pacers are a rarity in India. Fondly called 'The Vidarbha Express', Umesh Yadav started bowling with a leather ball only when he was 19.
After having failed to join the Indian Army and the Police Force, the idea of donning the national colours and representing his country in cricket would hardly have occurred as plausible to Umesh.
Pritam Gandhe, the then-captain of the Vidarbha team, spotted Umesh Yadav's talent and his ability to bowl with raw pace. He ensured that the pacer represented Air India in a T20 tournament. Soon, he went on to represent Vidarbha in the Ranji Trophy. He didn't receive many chances in his first season but kept working hard on his bowling.
Though he was bought by the Delhi Daredevils in 2008, he made his maiden appearance for the franchise only in 2010. He got his maiden national call-up in 2010 when an injured Praveen Kumar dropped out of the ICC Twenty20 World Cup. He did not make it to the playing eleven, but Umesh soon got a chance to bowl in the national colours when India toured Zimbabwe for a tri-nation series under the leadership of Suresh Raina.
He had a debut he would no doubt rather forget, as he bowled eight wicketless overs and was a part of the losing side. After an unimpressive show with the ball, he was not picked for a while.
His Test breakthrough arrived when he was a part of the squad for the 2010 tour of South Africa but finally received his Test cap only in 2011 when India hosted West Indies. He went wicketless in the first innings, but snared a couple of wickets in the second.
His first away tour was Down Under in 2011/12, where he registered his first five-wicket haul in Tests at Perth. Though India were whitewashed 4-0, Umesh’s performance was one of the positive takeaways: 14 wickets in 4 matches. Though he had the pace he was wayward on occasion and leaked runs.
He improved as a bowler after his first tour Down Under, but couldn't find a solution for his inconsistency. He played a crucial role in India's Champions Trophy triumph, prising out the wicket of Alastair Cook in the finals.
After getting injured during the disastrous 2-1 series defeat against England at home in 2012/13, he spent a year on the sidelines recovering. He next donned the white jersey for the tour of Australia in 2014. Though he played a few ODIs in between, he wasn't at his pacy best. In the final Test of the tour, Yadav went for a staggering 182 runs in his 30 overs across both innings, ending with the worst economy rate for an Indian bowler who has bowled more than 25 overs in a match.
He continued to leak runs and the pitches on the subcontinent barely helped fast bowlers. But in the 2015 World Cup, Umesh, Mohammed Shami and Mohit Sharma formed a rejuvenated pace battery. The Indian bowling attack took 70 wickets from the seven matches India won before getting knocked out in the semi finals.
Umesh took 18 of those wickets. His efforts were lauded by the Indian crowd, for he showed brilliant character. His fielding had been impressive as well and his bullet arm made many batsmen think twice before going for the extra run.
In the past 15 months, India has played 13 Tests at home and 4 away to great success. Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja shared the spoils in the majority of the matches where the pacers didn't have much to do. With Ishant Sharma, Umesh wasn't among the wickets on a consistent basis despite some brilliant display of reverse swing. In the tour of New Zealand and most part of the England series, his efforts didn't reap rewards. But his time came when he picked up 6 wickets in the first Test of the recently concluded series against Australia.
It clearly showed that he had worked on his bowling. He began to bowl cutters, slower ones and direct the bouncers exactly where a batsman would struggle. The Dharamsala Test is a testament to his efforts.
In the second innings, he set up David Warner's dismissal extremely well, thoroughly working over the southpaw. Renshaw, who had shown promise in the first couple of Tests, became Umesh's bunny as he nicked yet another one to Saha. The youngster anticipated a snorter but Yadav out-thought him and bowled an off-cutter. He took 3 crucial wickets out of his 5 in the match and ended with 17 wickets in the series. He was the only pace bowler to take more than 9 wickets.
“The way their pacers were bowling bouncers, especially Pat Cummins, the plan in the second innings was to bowl as many bouncers as possible. We had to win the match and this being the last Test of the season, I felt that we had to give some effort,” said Yadav.
His statements show his immense confidence and his improvement in technique. Having played 12 out of India’s last 13 Tests shows his work rate. Not only that, his improvement has been exponential. From a wayward bowler who just concentrated on steaming down and bowling with pace, he has become a sensible bowler, using all the variations he has in his arsenal. He has done it with great effect whilst not compromising on his pace which has to be lauded.
Indian fans will hope and expect the 'Vidarbha Express' to continue to provide match-winning spells like the one in Dharamsala.
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