When Umesh Yadav burst on the scene, coming from the outskirts of Nagpur bowling fast and furious, it seemed as if he would go onto becoming India’s pace spearhead. However, the rise of Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah means Yadav has never been the first-choice quick for Virat Kohli. He tends to play a game or two and is then dropped, as Team India looks to rotate its fast bowling crop.
On the sidelines of a Ranji Trophy game for Vidarbha in which he took nine wickets, Yadav spoke about the struggles of a tearaway when life doesn’t keep pace with expectations. Excerpts.
You debuted nearly eight years ago. How do you see your career at the moment?
Whatever cricket I have played so far and have been playing of late, I would say there have been plenty of ups and downs. Sometimes you get a few games on the run and then you have to wait for your chance, so a bowler’s rhythm is affected a bit. Bowling in the nets is different from playing in a match. Usually when I play matches continuously, I feel the body responds well and I get into a rhythm. But when that doesn’t happen, and you sit out a whole tour and then get a one-off match, it becomes difficult. I am glad that I am at the peak of my fitness. I have been working out daily and will now try and focus on whatever matches I get – be it for India or on the domestic circuit – I look forward to improving my game.
So do you feel continuity is difficult?
Usually when you are playing at the international level continuously, not just the body but even your mind starts working differently. You are constantly thinking about how to vary your lines, how to set a batsman up. But when you are in and out of the side, the whole rhythm gets lost. Even the level of thinking changes because you tend to think more about switching on and off. When you are playing constantly, you know your role precisely and think accordingly, what you have to do and all that. But when you aren’t getting a consistent run, you are thinking more about how to earn your chance. When you play one or two games overseas in a year, it definitely makes a difference. I have played five Tests in the last year and in ODIs and T20s, I have been on-off, on-off, so it does matter a lot.
When you come back to the domestic level, you definitely are in shape when it comes to practice but the simulation is not as much as the international level. You are not sure whether you will get batsmen to bowl at who are good enough at the highest level, sometimes you get wickets despite not bowling well. Yes, playing at the domestic level definitely helps you get confidence, but it is really difficult for an international player to come back to the domestic level and compete and keep your confidence high.
How do you cope with it mentally?
It depends. I feel I started playing cricket because I was passionate about bowling. As long as I remain passionate, it should not really matter whether I am playing upar yaa neeche. So I try and do that, to keep the same mindset irrespective of whether I am playing Ranji Trophy or international cricket. I can’t let myself slip into a negative zone, so I try and keep telling myself “koi nahin, abhi kharaab hua, ab achha hoga. You will get your chance soon and you got to be ready to grab that.”
Did you try to speak to someone?
Definitely you feel like talking to someone you look up to and I do that. Whenever I start drifting towards negativity, I speak with (Ashish) Nehra paaji, who I worked with during RCB or Subroto Banerjee sir. Ashish paaji keeps telling me don’t make mistakes that they did during their time. He says “When we didn’t get our chance, we at times were reluctant to train and when we got matches, we were not as focused as we should have been, so don’t let that happen.” He keeps reminding me of the problem of plenty when it comes to options in fast bowling for India at the moment, so he just keeps asking me to be patient and keep myself ready whenever I get a chance. Definitely since my fellow fast bowlers have bowled so well for India, I haven’t got as many matches as them, but Ashish paaji asks me to remain positive all the time. He asks me to focus on Ranji Trophy because that’s where I can keep putting pressure on the selectors with consistent performances. If I don’t do that, it will get really difficult for me to play at the highest grade. Everyone’s watching you when you play here and you have to keep reminding them with a big haul of wickets.
Shreyas Iyer recently touched upon how cricketers’ life can be very lonely, especially if you are in the team and not playing. Did you also feel the same ever?
It happens with me as well because when you are travelling while playing, time just flies by, but when you are sitting at home or sitting in the room when you are not in the team, you don’t have much to do. You do your practice, do your fitness, but then what! You can sustain it for a day or two, even a week or 10 days, but beyond that, without any match practice, you tend to get bored, even frustrated. I am fortunate that immediately after coming back from Australia, the Ranji Trophy knockouts were starting and Vidarbha had made it, so my system was not disturbed. I know that I will get to play matches, something for which I have had a craving for a while, and now that I have joined the team, I will try and help Vidarbha first make it to the final and then lift the title this year as well.
Do you have clarity over whether you have a role to play in white-ball cricket?
When it comes to clarity, selectors will have to think about it. As a bowler, I haven’t played any major tournaments. I just get an odd game in a series and then get omitted. If you don’t get chances, how will you prove yourself? If you see, in the last two years, how many ODIs would I have played? Hardly four-five. I got two games in England, two against West Indies, then they picked me for T20s and now I am again out. If I have been performing in the IPL, they have to give me a fair chance. I should get a consistent run to prove myself. If I can’t do well, I can accept it. But if you get just one or two games in a year, even when you come in, you tend to carry too much pressure just to maintain your place in the team rather than giving your best and helping the team win.
What went wrong in the Perth Test?
I mentioned about rhythm and that is what affected me in Perth. I just didn’t settle into any rhythm and couldn’t deliver as much as I was expected to. The others were bowling well and I thought after the kind of start I got, I will improve on it as the match progressed, but didn’t get to bowl much in the second innings. Yes, I was off-track and wasn’t in rhythm. When I went back and watched the videos, I was running in a little awkwardly and even the pace was lacking, so I feel rhythm could be the only reason for being a little wayward. When you don’t start well and others are picking wickets, you are thinking of how to match them, but then somehow I just didn’t get into any rhythm.
Isn’t it the line, not the pace, which is the main problem for you?
Usually it’s a problem. See, I have never said that I will be an accurate bowler or I am an accurate bowler, someone who keeps bowling on one spot. But if you see, when I have played a streak of matches — be it against Australia or England prior to that — it’s not that I have strayed around or bowled too short or conceded too many runs. My economy rate in those series was around 2 runs an over. But suddenly, when you don’t get games in international cricket, it does make a difference. Bowling in international cricket is different than playing here (Ranji Trophy). Just like, see after the first day, if someone would have said Umesh is here but hasn’t even been able to pick wickets against Uttarakhand, it’s not fair. You have to also assess the conditions. I am not Superman.
What has been the role of India’s bowling coach Bharat Arun?
Definitely, we keep talking to each other. He has to look after the whole flock of bowlers and when I spoke to him last, he also felt that my rhythm in Perth wasn’t that great and that resulted in what’s happened since then, but he has also given me the confidence that I can come back stronger. He believes in me, just like he does in all the five or six bowlers in the core group.
Was it disappointing since you went to Australia on a high?
Definitely, I had gone to Australia with the same thought that I will get many more opportunities than I did, but when I didn’t get a chance after not doing so well in the second match, I had to come back and wait for my chance. Let’s see, one bad match doesn’t mean life is over. It’s given me time to think what I should do to and work on my mistakes to come back stronger.
Did you try to speak to (captain Virat) Kohli or coach Ravi (Shastri)?
I feel the management scenario is different. A player cannot get involved in it. Nobody can ask them why someone is or isn’t playing because, after all, it’s a team decision. Captain, coach, selector – they decide the best team combination from their perspective. Every player, if consulted, would want to play all the time, but it doesn’t work that way. Once you have a captain and coach in place, you should trust them that they are thinking what suits the team the best.
Do you think it’s tough because India has the best bowling attack at the moment?
I am sure it’s the best pace attack in India. You have pace, swing and even someone who just zips the ball past a batsman irrespective of the conditions. Now you have a pace unit that oppositions mull over for months before a series and the opposition bowlers also know that if you bowl too many short ones, they will also get it back. You look at Bumrah, Ishant (Sharma), Shami, they are amazing. It’s not easy to play them individually and moreover, with the pace unit we have, the opposition just cannot relax after one of us is done with a spell because there’s no easy bowler to follow someone who is tiring. And the world knows that it’s not just pace but all of us have matured after having played in various conditions over the years. That’s a great benefit and all the bowlers know that the bowling attack is not just strong but a mature lot as well.