Just before India’s trip to the West Indies, the Indian cricket board’s website uploaded a choreographed video of Umesh Yadav’s fitness regime, with the fast bowlers himself explaining the different methods. In a particular frame, Umesh is in chakrasana posture, his abdomen arched upwards, almost like a rainbow, balancing himself on his palms and heels. In another frame, he stands on his right leg, the left leg lifted as high as possible and both arms stretched forward like a swimmer before the take-off. He then rolls a chunky medicine ball the size of a football. Throughout this collage, Umesh stresses these three words strength, flexibility and endurance.
Umesh was never a fitness freak. Forget gym, the village where he grew up, Valli, a mineworkers’ dwelling in Nagpur, didn’t even have the basic livelihood facilities. But the long walks and sprints to the village headquarters in Khaparkheda in the sweltering heat, and climbing trees to pluck mangoes in his neighbourhood, endowed him with considerable stamina and strength on his legs, besides a robust physique, which many thought would earn him a recruitment in the Army or Police. It didn’t, but that’s a different story.
The first time he saw a state-of-the-art gym was after he was snapped up by Delhi Daredevils in 2008-his domestic side Vidarbha wasn’t the among the more prosperous sides in the domestic circuit. Like most of the first-timers in a gym would, he eagerly began with weights and dumbbells before coach Eric Simmons advised him that he should spent more time building his endurance, for being an out-and-out fast bowler, dependant on pace and bounce than movement and stifling line and length.
So his body needed the stability and sustainability to not only endure the rigours of day-long toil but also ward off career-detrimental injuries. He also made him aware of the essentiality to replenish. Umesh took all those sermons in the earnest and has since become sort of obsessed with the gym.
Readiness to learn
This overwhelming readiness to learn, which had been central to his rise, from a dejected 19-year-old boy who was unsure of his future and one who had never seen a leather ball, to taking the new ball for his country in just four years. But the fruits of labour didn’t always bear instantly, but he seldom forsook his faith in trying hard, sometimes exceeding himself, to acquire what he strove for.
For years, he has been searching, and struggling, to find that perfect blend of pace and precision. More often than not, raw pace didn’t compliment accuracy. The faster he tried to bowl, the wider, and often fuller, his ball would land. He would as much as delight you with his pace as let you down with his scary lack of discipline.
He blasted the batsman’s stump with a scorching yorker but then followed it up with a rank loosener. Hence, the hype and excitement that accompanied his early days soon dissipated, as rapidly as some of his deliveries. Umesh can bowl fast, but he can’t pitch four balls on the same spot became a repetitive thread of his career.
You think he’s come of age, then he makes you doubt your own judgemental skills with an appalling spell.
It doesn’t take much time for such a bowler to be tagged unreliable. So every time he steamed into bowl, there seemed to lurk this uneasy question – which Umesh would turn up? Then it was concluded that he wouldn’t mend his ways. Ever. Especially after the Australia series Down Under, wherein he was expected to bag wickets bagful but was incisive only in bursts. Closer home, in Fatullah, he leaked 45 runs in seven overs, so much so that his spot in the Sri Lanka series was widely debated.
Then just at juncture he was about to be fully written off, surfaced a version of Umesh we haven’t seen quite often. In Sri Lanka, he showed the first signs of this newfound discipline. He got just five wickets in two Tests, but he was an admirable foil to Ishant Sharma and Ravichandran Ashwin, the two standout bowlers of the series. Kohli could summon him any time of the match with the full conviction that he could not only keep it tight but also purchase wickets from the dead tracks of the island.
Tormenting Sri Lanka
He tormented Sri Lanka’s best batsman, Angelo Mathews, throughout the series, and bowled with pace in the opening spell and reverse swung in later spells.
So was he against South Africa, a series wherein seamers were of marginal influence. But whenever he was tasked to keep up the pressure or induce a breakthrough, he dutifully obliged, ploughing through the heat and dust with a rustically innocent smile.
In Delhi, he scythed through South Africa’s attrition with a three-wicket haul in the second innings that also included 16 maiden overs.
His bowling in the first Test was further instructive of his utility. He harassed the top order with his outswing, and the returned to slit through the lower order with reverse swing. And as pleasingly, he conceded just nine boundaries (off 206 balls), the second least by an Indian bowler.
At some point in his career, there could have been the temptation to remould, but Umesh has steadfastly held on to his biggest strength, the gift of raw pace, and finally melded it with the right amount of accuracy.
It’s his fruit of labour and it’s time the unreliable tag is taken off him.