THERE’S a primitive joy in seeing a fast bowler send a stump cartwheeling that probably has no match. You can think of a bouncer zooming past a batsman’s head, Jonty Rhodes flying without wings at backward point, or Shane Warne deceiving a batsman with a magic delivery. But nothing quite sends the rush running through your veins like a stump doing a somersault. It’s a charm that never goes away. It’s also a sight though that still remains a novelty in Indian cricket. Not many Indian fast bowlers have really been of the hell-raising variety.
So when Varun Aaron got rid of Hashim Amla on the first day in Bangalore, it was as if the entire nation jumped from their seats experiencing an adrenaline rush, starting with Virat Kohli & Co on the field. It’s only better that the South African captain’s citadel had been destroyed while he was attempting a defensive prod, which only adds to the ultimate machismo of the moment.
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And even though it was the spinners who ran through the rest of the Proteas batting line-up, it was this dismissal that caught the attention of everyone, including the number of ex-cricketers in the commentary box. Unfortunately Amla, and his family seated in the stands, weren’t allowed to forget it either with the big-screen at the ground showing the dismissal from different angles on loop throughout the day. It was also a definitive statement of the obvious shift in the pecking order of the Indian fast-bowling ranks.
While all the talk during the few days of Test cricket we had in this series—three-and-a-half out of a possible eight—has been about spinners, turning pitches and South Africa’s ineptness to deal with them, Aaron seems to have finally found his feet in the team, while Yadav’s seem to be slipping away further into the background.
It cannot be easy being either Yadav or even Aaron at the moment. They hardly get more than two Tests on the trot. With the pitches in India more and more prone to spin, they get hardly a dozen overs put together often to show their wares. And then without much notice they get benched for the next Test. But the decision to pick Aaron over Yadav for the second Test does seem to have some credence to it, if not give away the team management’s healthy fetish for those extra yards of pace.
You can see it in the child-like excitement on the faces on the field whenever Aaron manages to rush a South African batsman or at times even hit one, like he did with Dean Elgar at the Chinnaswamy Stadium. To the Jharkhand fast bowler’s credit, he also seems to have cut down on his erraticism and seems to be diligently sticking to a game-plan he has often spoken about, ‘hitting the top of off-stump’.
Yadav on the other hand seems to be stuck in a dangerous middle-zone where he neither seems to have upgraded himself nor found the trust of the captain. Ironically, a day after Aaron’s career-defining delivery, he took a hat-trick for Vidarbha against Rajasthan. And in all honesty, he did have his moments in Sri Lanka two months ago, whether it was getting Angelo Mathews first-up on the fourth morning of the P’Sara Test or knocking out the openers at SSC. But that’s been the story pretty much of his career. An impressive spell here and there, where you actually sit up and take notice, but lengthy periods where he leaves you and the captain shaking his head in disgust by dishing out balls that are sliding down the pads or are so short that batsmen are cutting and pulling them away with no fuss. There was an over he bowled amidst all the mayhem in Mohali in the second innings where there was generous reverse swing on offer. Twice he was guilty of drifting so wide off Stiaan van Zyl’s pads that he conceded two fours, byes and leg-byes, and thereby wasting his opportunity. Yadav only bowled one more over in the match.
Living on past glory
It’s not surprising that Yadav’s two best individual bowling efforts came on his first tour to Australia back in 2011-12, where he was the standout with the new-ball. He troubled Ricky Ponting — getting him at Perth en route to his only five-wicket haul — and a host of others in the Aussie line-up, and was regularly touching the 150 kph mark. In a way his Test career has ever since lived on past glory. There have been intermittent performances where he’s reignited hopes of living up to the potential he’d shown Down Under — like his Ahmedabad performance against England in 2012. And a stress fracture on the back, following that Test incidentally, that kept him out of action for a while hasn’t helped.
At the moment, Yadav has played in 16 Tests and has 48 wickets at 38.95 apiece. But how many of those wickets can you recall or have the same eye-catching value as Aaron knocking Amla’s pole out? At 28 with close to five seasons of international cricket behind him, Yadav should have reached a stage where he’s at least established himself as the second best seamer behind Ishant Sharma. Even Ishant, for all the criticism that came his way, had by this stage of his career become India’s No.2 when Zaheer Khan still held the reins. And once Zaheer faded out, Ishant has taken over. But Yadav seems lost in the lurch struggling even now to find a spot. Not only has Aaron overtaken him, he also has to contend with Stuart Binny, who’s all-round abilities keep giving him the nod.
And in a few months Mohammed Shami will be back too. At least on the basis of his performances in Australia and in South Africa and New Zealand a year earlier, the Bengal seamer has shown that he brings a wicket-taking knack to the table that India can very well do with. Shami’s return will push Yadav further down, especially with India unlikely to pick more than two fast bowlers in a Test for some time now, with Kohli & Co slated to play increasingly at home.
The issue is that neither here nor there. He doesn’t have the consistent pace of an Aaron and he doesn’t quite hit the right lengths and produce wickets as regularly enough as Shami. There are days when Yadav can be quick, but he’s not someone who can intimidate an opposition like Aaron can.
What’s more there’s always names coming to the fore in domestic cricket, be it Shardul Thakur, who dismissed AB de Villiers and Amla at CCI during the warm-up game in a special spell of swing and seam bowling or Nathu Singh, who’s got everyone raving about his speed. Yadav’s career is not quite at the crossroads but at a traffic circle. He needs to decide where he wants to go. And while Yadav is trying to turn things around, Aaron is turning heads and the off-stumps of the very best in the world.