Indian cricketer Umesh Yadav dives to stop a ball during the second One Day International (ODI) match between India and the West Indies at The YS Rajasekhara Reddy Cricket Stadium in Visakhapatnam. (AFP Photo)
What an amusing sight it was to watch Umesh Yadav and Varun Aaron fumble and slip, reflecting their raw nerves and a typical tail-ender's mindset, while stitching a brief but match-winning partnership in the first one-dayer against the West Indies. It was, perhaps, a throwback to a time and era when cricket was not a mean, professional sport and one could have a good laugh at one's expense.
These two young and aspiring cricketers are no amusing sight once they have the ball in their hands, letting it rip at a speed rarely ever touched by India pacemen.
The tall and energetic Yadav, with his muscular build, a fluid run-up and easy, rippling action, generates pace that makes him the most promising fast bowler India has seen in years. What makes him stand out even more is his social background and the odds he must have fought to reach where he is today.
Son of a coal miner from Majri village in Maharashtra, Yadav would have become a policeman, had his skills of bowling with a tennis ball at great speed not been noticed. He was 19 then and within two years he was playing first-class cricket and rattling the best of batsmen on the domestic circuit.
Yadav is one more name in this new India, which has seen the rise of small-town players like Munaf Patel, reflecting the plural and diverse nature of the Indian society in the composition of the team.
He, in more ways than one, lends a different dimension to a team which has largely been dominated by the upper caste elite, much like the rest of the country. No serious study has been done to quantify the social backgrounds of players who have played for the country
so far. The only study of this nature, ironically, was done by an Australian, Richard Cashman, in his book "Patron, Players and the Crowd," published in 1980.
One need not be an academic with a scholarly bent of mind to know that the India cap has by and large gone to names which betray their upper-strata lineage. The vast swathe of India had gone widely unrepresented, a manifestation of the uneven economic growth and biases inherent in a caste-based hierarchal society.
Of late it is changing, with big cities not being the only nurseries of talent or a passport to a place in the India team. The sport, which was imported by the British as a symbol of their sporting superiority and "fairplay", is no longer the preserve of a "chosen" few, which goes to show that cricket has permeated deep and wide in the Indian imagination.
It is a vehicle for social mobility, where a Yadav or a Munaf can transcend their fate with one big leap into riches and fame.
Take a look at the fast bowling combination of the Indians which will play in Australia. The stirring symbolism of Ishant Sharma (a Brahmin), Zaheer Khan (a Muslim) Varun Aaron (a Christian) and Umesh Yadav (an OBC), combining to give India a real chance to have a go at the formidable Australians, is not to be missed out.
Missing here is a Palwankar Baloo (the first Dalit to play for the Hindus in 1907 when teams competed on religious identities) to make this team truly representative of the Indian reality.