A gift of bowling spikes that shaped Umesh Yadav's career

From a wayward bowler to one of India's fastest pacers, former Vidarbha captain Pritam Gandhe takes us through Umesh Yadav's eventful career thus far.

Ace seamer Umesh Yadav is the first Test cricketer Vidarbha has produced.   -  AP

In October last year, India beat West Indies 2-0 for a record-equalling ten successive series wins at home. One of the major architects of the victory was Umesh Yadav, who had come for some free-flowing praise from skipper Virat Kohli at the time. 

With the Australia tour around the corner, Kohli had said: "You have to come in and run in all day, bowl in the right areas, with pace. So I think from that point of view, Umesh is right up there to be featuring in Australia because he's got the pace." 

Umesh Yadav celebrates after dismissing Australia's Usman Khawaja in the Perth Test on December 14, 2018.   -  Getty Images


Three months later, Umesh returned home having played a lone Test in Perth. But he straightaway hit the ground running in  the ongoing Ranji Trophy, picking up five wickets for Vidarbha, which rolled over Uttarakhand in the quarterfinal. 

The 31-year-old pacer, however, isn't fully satisfied with the one-off chances that have come his way and feels he deserves a 'more consistent run' with the national side. 

Watching him bowl in full tilt against Kerala was, therefore, a chance to fully grasp the art of a seamer who has come a long way since starting his journey in a hamlet close to Vidarbha. 

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"Umesh was quick but very raw. He used to bowl from far behind the stumps or too close to it...", says Pritam Gandhe, Yadav's captain on Vidarbha debut. 

There was a time when Yadav, who is only the third fast bowler to pick up a ten-wicket haul in Tests at home, struggled to land even one ball on target. "He was very wayward... I thought if he came closer to the crease and landed even four deliveries in line with the wickets, then I can play him. He was a fast learner too," Pritam, who has the most five-wicket hauls in Ranji Trophy for Vidarbha (18 in 85), adds. 

Today, Umesh has an annual contract with IPL side Royal Challengers Bangalore amounting to Rs 4.2 Crore, and a financially secure future but as an up-and-coming pacer from a territory with no cricketing history, no local role-models, he had a hard time sparing resources for appropriate footwear.

Indian Premier League outfit Royal Challengers Bangalore signed Umesh Yadav for Rs 4.2 Crore in 2018.   -  R. V. MOORTHY


"Umesh didn't have spikes back then, so he used to wear shoes with studs on their soles. We got him better footwear and then started working on his bowling action, his release.

"I arranged for him to play for Air India in a T20 tournament in Mumbai also... I told Praveen Amre and Narendra Hirwani that they should keep an eye out for him. He's fast," recollects Pritam. 

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At 20, Yadav had no college degree, or job to fend for himself. Two years later, in 2010, against Zimbabwe in Bulawayo, he made his debut for India.  
At 23, he had been signed by Delhi Daredevils for a then eye-brow raising 7,50,000$ in the 2011 IPL auction. His rapid rise, from tennis ball cricket in Khaparkheda, a small town about an hour from Nagpur, to the highest echelon of international cricket had as much to do with Yadav's talent as with Pritam's contribution. 

"My role was both that of a guide and a captain. It was up to me to mould him as a bowler and as skipper of Vidarbha, ensure he was ready to be picked in the XI," says Pritam, an off-spinner, who powered Central Zone to the Duleep Trophy title in 1993 against West Zone, picking up the wickets of Sanjay Manjrekar, Sachin Tendulkar, Ravi Shastri, Kiran More, Bhavin Radia and Salil Ankola in an eight-over spell.   

Yadav is the first Test cricketer Vidarbha has produced. At the Krishnagiri stadium, he left the Kerala top-order in shambles on a wicket that had enough grass on it to keep the speedster in business.

Nine years into his international career, Yadav has played 41 Tests and 75 ODIs and Pritam reminisces the time he first heard about the 'new kid on the block'.

Seasoned campaigner Umesh Yadav is one of the most experienced members of the current Vidarbha squad.   -  Amol Karhadkar


"My younger brother Ulhas, a BCCI panel umpire, was officiating in one of the local matches when he saw Umesh. He came home in the evening and told me about this bowler who was so quick that the batsmen were barely able to make contact with the ball! Then I called him in the nets and he hasn't looked back since..."

He goes on to share an interesting anecdote from Yadav's first-class debut. "Our season opener in 2008 was against Madhya Pradesh at the Emerald High School ground in Indore. The pitch was perceived to be slow, so teams usually played two spinners and an all-rounder, no one even thought of fielding three seamers on a wicket like that. 

"And our fast bowlers at the time were good, they were moving the ball. So I dropped one spinner and Umesh made his first-class debut because I knew then that he had what it takes to make a difference. And he proved me right by picking up four wickets in the first innings.  

"I watched him bowl during the quarterfinals against Uttarakhand... He needs to work on his line and movement a little...," says Pritam.

Against Kerala, on a nippy Thursday morning, Yadav was all ears.

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