Built for the kill

Umesh Yadav may not have taken too many wickets Down Under,but has set the speed gun afire

Written by Aditya Iyer | Adelaide | Published:February 16, 2012 1:06 am

Stitches,leather and five-and-a-half ounces of compressed wood sliced Gautam Gambhir in half around his solar plexis,at the pace of a high-speed train. Immediately,the venom in Umesh Yadav’s eyes vanished,while his left hand came darting out apologetically. It wasn’t the first time that the young fast bowler had come close to reducing a fellow team-mate into a heap of bones.

“Dedh sau to hoga. Match mein bhi yehi dikha (Must be 150. Show it in the matcha as well ),” Gambhir barked back,with his thumb sticking up in a sign of total assurance. Yadav’s bee-stung mouth parted ways to display a set of shining,broad teeth,as the hulking frame turned into a mushy,happy jiggle. Next ball,Yadav cleaned the left-handed batsman up with another delivery of the dedh sau variety.

Inside the Adelaide Oval a day later,Yadav bowled close to seven balls in and around the 150 kmph mark — including one over 151 — to singularly own the honours board for the fastest times clocked during the game. He averaged 142 during his 60-ball quota. It was perhaps the quickest spell by an Indian bowler,ever. To put things in perspective,Mitchell Starc,Australia quickest during the Adelaide ODI,bowled just one ball at 144.2.

A rare performance

So for the first time in a long time in Indian cricket,the wickets that a fast bowler scalped were side attractions to the real talking point — the ability of a pacer to make the ball whistle at any given stage of the match. A genuine head-hunter,the rarest of Indian traits. It made the game’s Man of the Match gush at the press conference about a less rewarded performance.

“Umesh is the find of the tour,” Gambhir said,letting the statement sink in. “He is someone who can bowl 150 consistently. It’s time we return to the opponents what they’ve been making us receive for years and years.” Fair enough. But the only problem is,now Gambhir & Co face a virtual opponent in the nets.

Just a season ago,India’s then most highly anticipated tour — that of South Africa — began with the then ‘net bowler’ Yadav bringing the great Sachin Tendulkar to his knees with a lethal bouncer to his helmet. It was at the Claremont Cricket Club in Cape Town,and Tendulkar wobbled back to his feet with a smile of respect on his face. After the wake up call,Tendulkar went on to score two centuries in India’s first non-losing Test series in South Africa,while Yadav continued to be a waterboy.

“Someone who can hit the deck hard and bowl 150 consistently can rattle any batsman in the world,even the greats,” said Gambhir,clearly speaking from experience. Prolonged practice only made Yadav stronger,faster and more lethal,as the West Indians found out with his seven-wicket match burst in only his second white-flanelled game — at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata.

But the real Yadav emerged only once India moved away from the subcontinental featherbeds,and on to the lot more conducive wickets of the MCG for the first Test of this series. On these spongy surfaces,Yadav smacked Ricky Ponting on the helmet,cleaned him up soon after,and stood tall amidst the ruins by the Perth game with his maiden five-wicket haul. And in his return contest since the Tests,the 24-year old man with a wrought iron physique terrorised the two form Australian batsmen — skipper Michael Clarke and fifty-notching debutant Peter Forrest.

“The way he bowled for those two crucial wickets was fantastic. But more than that,he is quick. And that makes for a great find,” Gambhir said. “We can develop him into a match-winner for us. Hopefully he can go on for a long time,and take plenty of wickets.”

Yadav didn’t have any against Sri Lanka in the following game,but it was his first battle with a modern-day legend. And there was no love lost between Malinga and him on Valentine’s Day. The premier death-over specialist from Lanka won the battle of wickets two to none,but the shy-demeanoured Indian continued to rule the contest of the speed guns by a far greater margin. “We talk a lot about our fast bowlers that are not as quick. But someone like Umesh,I think,he is fantastic for us. Now people should stop talking about us not producing fast bowlers. When a man can clock 150 with a semi-new ball,we surely have developed one,” added Gambhir.

Quick rise

For a boy who picked up the leather ball for the first time in 2006,Yadav has come a mighty long way in a short span.

But to be a part of this generation’s furious few,he is yet to acquire an aura of monstrosity. Malinga slings,Steyn snarls and Roach is West Indian — he is born with it. Until he does,however,Yadav can depend on his powerful set of shoulders,a pair of legs that won’t tire and a heart that won’t give up — all crucial mechanics in engineering India’s first,genuine tearaway quick.

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