June 15, 2024


Interior spice

Home-Test specialist Umesh Yadav carves out his own niche

a baseball player pitching a ball on a field: Umesh Yadav has been an irresistible force in home conditions © Getty Images

© Getty Images
Umesh Yadav has been an irresistible force in home conditions © Getty Images

It won’t be as big a landmark as the ones Ishant Sharma and R Ashwin have brought up earlier in the series, but at some point during the fourth Test in Ahmedabad, another India bowler could reach a significant milestone.

Umesh Yadav is fit again after injuring his calf in Australia, and he could be back in action during the fourth Test, with Jasprit Bumrah sitting out for personal reasons. If he plays, and if he picks up four wickets, Yadav will become only the fifth India fast bowler to pick up 100 wickets at home. If he gets there, he’ll also have picked up his 150th Test wicket along the way.

That ratio is instructive, and it defines Yadav’s Test career. Out of India’s six most prolific fast bowlers, no one has taken a greater proportion of their wickets at home.

Partly by accident and partly by design, Yadav has been a home-Test specialist for a number of years now. He’s almost always the first reserve overseas, but he’s somehow usually in the team sheet at home, in conditions where India typically play only two fast bowlers.

And he’s done a terrific job of it, as his home average (24.54) and strike rate (45.7) suggest. Since the start of 2017, Yadav’s home record is even more impressive: his 63 wickets in this period have come at an average of 19.34 – better than those of Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja – and a strike rate of 35.2, numbers that only Mohammed Shami, another irresistible force on skiddy Indian pitches, has matched.

For this reason, Yadav should probably slot straight back into India’s attack in place of Bumrah, despite the strong impression Mohammed Siraj has made since his debut.

If Yadav plays, England can expect to be tested straightaway. For testing top-orders straightaway is perhaps the one thing Umesh is better at than the bowler he’s replacing. If there’s one criticism that can be made of Bumrah in the outstanding Test career he’s had so far, it’s that he isn’t always at his best while bowling with the brand-new ball. He usually makes up with a superlative second spell, but the curiously muted impression he sometimes gives at the start of innings is reflected in his numbers too.

Have a look at the records of India’s bowlers, in all conditions, in the first 12 overs of Test innings since the start of 2017 (this assumes that the typical new-ball spell is no longer than six overs). And look, specifically, at the records of Yadav and Bumrah.

This is what England will likely come up against if Yadav plays. A quick swing bowler who’ll go hard at their top order with attacking lines and lengths, willing to concede an extra run every over in the pursuit of wickets.

With the cushion of top-quality spinners capable of bowling long, testing spells, this is how India have tended to use Yadav – and Shami – in home conditions of late, in short, sharp, ultra-attacking bursts.

Yadav’s strengths and weaknesses make him perfectly suited to that role. And in recent seasons, he’s become a better version of himself, developing new weapons to complement his natural gifts of pace, new-ball outswing and old-ball reverse. He now bowls, for instance, something that looks like a wobble-seam delivery, which threatens to swing away but ends up continuing along its initial angle. He got Aiden Markram lbw with this delivery in Pune back in 2019, and confused Dean Elgar so much with it that he got into two minds over whether to play at Yadav or leave him, and ended up chopping onto his stumps while doing neither.

Those two wickets came during a spell of play during which Yadav and Shami reduced South Africa to 53 for 5 immediately after India had declared at 601 for 5.

The same sort of thing happened in the next Test match in Ranchi, too, where India declared at 497 for 9 before unleashing their quicks at South Africa’s top order. Yadav’s bowling in that innings was some of the finest of his career – all-out attack on a pitch that had very little in it for the fast bowlers. Watch it here.The ball that dismissed Faf du Plessis, straightening past his outside edge to knock back off stump, is often referenced while recalling Yadav’s best moments, but the bouncer that sent back Quinton de Kock was equally impressive. It recalled his match-turning third-innings spell in Dharamsala in 2017, when he softened up and dismissed both of Australia’s openers, and spoke of the wider improvement in Yadav’s use of the short ball.

All of this has made him a more rounded bowler, possibly even one capable of bowling incisively outside India. But it’s just so happened that he’s part of an era of unprecedented depth in Indian fast bowling. That he’s kept himself relevant for so long is a testament to his skill and his drive, and in building the home record that he has over all these years, he’s carved an undeniable niche for himself.