Eight years ago at the Adelaide Oval,a slippery fast bowler with a nice outswinger took six wickets in Australias second innings. This was Ajit Agarkars 18th Test,and his first five-wicket haul.
On Tuesday at the Adelaide Oval,a slippery fast bowler with a nice outswinger conceded 87 runs in 12 overs. This was Umesh Yadavs sixth Test,and his first spell since bagging his maiden five-wicket haul.
Agarkar had just turned 26 when he sent down that matchwinning spell in 2003-04. Having played a lot of international cricket by that point,he seemed somehow older. Umesh,having just started out,seems a lot younger than his 24 years.
Zaheer Khan certainly seemed to fall into that trap,when he was asked about Umeshs bowling ahead of the Perth Test.
At this age, Zaheer said,especially four-five Test matches in,you are allowed to make mistakes. What is important is how you are approaching the game. What attitude you bring to the ground. I am very happy with his attitude. He is a wicket-taker,so that is what his job will be.
On the Agarkar path?
During his career,Agarkar was similarly cast as a wicket-taker. He made mistakes too. Lots of them. He was popularly reckoned to bowl a boundary ball every over.
The word potential was thrown about liberally when a young Agarkar bowled. Umesh clearly has more potential than Agarkar did. He swings the new ball more consistently,bowls quicker,and has a body that can sustain that pace through a long day in the sun. But that doesnt take away the threat that he could go down the Agarkar path to unfulfillment just as easily.
Agarkar ended his Test career with an economy rate of 3.39. Umesh,so far,has gone at 4.48 per over. If a bowling attack were that expensive,they would concede 400 on a normal day of Test cricket. Bowling attacks cannot afford to be that expensive. And so,Virender Sehwag ended up bowling 13 overs,one more than Umesh,on a Day One wicket with nothing in it for the spinners.
In the 12 overs he bowled,Umesh was hit for 11 boundaries. An all-run four off a lofted Warner drive that stopped a foot inside the long off rope neatly rounded it off to the mythical Agarkar mark of a boundary every over.
Three of those boundaries came courtesy pulls from Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke. If it seems a small number considering how often he kept dropping it short,its probably because that length forced Sehwag to place a deep backward square leg on the fence fairly early in his spell. That fielder remained busy right through,keeping six more pulls off Umesh down to one,and nine flicks off the hips or pads down to one or two.
Bowling down the leg side or halfway down the pitch – we havent even counted the wide ones that were slapped to the off side fence – were familiar sights during Agarkars career. Its the same for Umesh.
This might seem like too harsh an indictment on the basis of one bad day,but it isnt. Umeshs radar has been switched off for the majority of the series. In 99 overs in this series,hes conceded 66 fours and a six,despite all the protection that MS Dhoni and Sehwag have given him on the square boundaries.
At the WACA,where he got a five-wicket haul,he still went for five and a half an over. When he got his first wicket,with Australias score reading 214 for one,his figures read one for 55 in 7.5 overs.
Till that point,Umesh had been spraying it all over. The rest of his spell,where he moved his length closer to the batsmen and his line closer to off stump,showed him the way to go for the remainder of his series and beyond. The short ball,after all,had fetched him only two of his twelve wickets in the series.
It wasnt a difficult lesson,or even a new one. But his first-day spell at Adelaide showed he hadnt learned a thing. This might have something to do with the let him make mistakes approach that his mentors seem to advocate.
Not too long ago,Englands team management gave Stuart Broad an ultimatum. You wont be in the side too long if you keep bowling short. Broad began bowling fuller,reaped the rewards,and stopped trying to be the enforcer. Umesh is quick by Indian standards,but not that much quicker than Broad,if at all,and not as tall. He would do well to ditch trying to intimidate the likes of Ponting and Clarke. Theyve faced short,145kph bowling all their lives.