Can Umesh Yadav be India’s first choice first- change?

  • Siddhartha Sharma, New Delhi
  • Updated: Jul 26, 2016 16:37 IST
Seventy two percent of Umesh Yadav’s (centre) 58 Test wickets have come with the old ball. (AFP)

India pacer Umesh Yadav picked a four-wicket haul (4/41) in the first innings against West Indies at Antigua. He was introduced as first -change and combined well with Mohammad Shami, who also collected a four-wicket haul conceding 66 runs. If Shami remains fit and Ishant Sharma delivers with the new ball, Yadav could be groomed into India’s first -change pacer.

Whenever Yadav bowled with a slightly old ball, his 145 kmph-plus speed, ability to generate steep bounce and slight movement, both in the air and off the pitch, reaped rewards. Australia’s Mitchell Johnson and England’s Andrew Flintoff could be the two bowlers in Test cricket, who may be compared with Yadav. They both became first-change bowlers late in their respective careers.

Yadav has played 18 Tests and has 58 wickets at an average of 34. Out of his 58 scalps, 72 per cent, which comes to 42, have come with the old ball. Bowling with a new ball has not been Yadav’s forte as his wayward line and inconsistent length have forced Indian skippers to replace him. However, Yadav is capable of troubling top-class batsman, as he proved in Australia in 2011. There, he tagged with Zaheer Khan and tested David Warner with steep bounce. He collected seven wickets in the first Test at MCG and four were pocketed with the old ball. His only five-wicket haul in Tests, came in the third game at Perth, in which all wickets came with the old ball.

By comparison, Aussie left-arm quick Mitchell Johnson was better at swinging the ball and enjoyed greater control. In his first 18 Tests, he fared better than Yadav as he had 78 wickets at an average of 29. It was only during the Ashes series of 2009, that his performance dipped and he was demoted to being a first -change bowler. Johnson picked just three wickets, conceded 200 runs at Lord’s.

The demotion worked well for Johnson as he came back stronger, and rocked the English batting order in the fourth Test, picking a five-wicket haul. He became better at his length as the ball deviated little in the air and Johnson could focus on correcting his length. Ben Hilfenhaus and Peter Siddle operated with new ball.

Johnson’s best came in the 2013-14 Ashes at home. Australia skipper Michael Clarke used Johnson intelligently. Johnson was made to bowl with the new ball. Clarke wanted to send a message to the visitors and Johnson’s steep bounce wreaked havoc in the series. Siddle was used as first-change and Johnson teamed up with Ryan Harris throughout the series.

In 2015 Ashes in England, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood teamed up with the new ball and Johnson was introduced as first change. He picked up 19 wickets in the Ashes. In the remaining 55 Tests, Johnson bowled majority as a first change bowler. He got 235 wickets at a slightly better rate of 27.

Coming back to Yadav, the Vidarbha pacer showed better control with the old ball at Antigua. On Saturday, Yadav used the crease well and bowled from an angle. He bent his back and got two wickets from the short ball. One of his deliveries reversed late and knocked off Carlos Brathwaite’s stumps.

Yadav had put a similar effort against South Africa in December 2015 at the Ferozeshah Kotla. The Proteas were on a blocking spree in the second innings. Yadav broke the shackles and bowled quick. His reverse swing accounted for Dane Vilas and Kyle Abbott, and he later sent back Dane Piedt with a quick bouncer. India won the Test in the final session and won the series 3-0.

During India’s tour of Australia in 2015, just before the world Cup, Yadav collected five wickets in the first Test at Brisbane and he got Chris Rogers, David Warner and Brad Haddin with quick short pitched deliveries. In the World Cup in March, India skipper MS Dhoni made sure he used Yadav with the new ball. Yadav could generate bounce and the idea was to pick initial wickets. With Yadav, that is a possibility on pitches with lively bounce.

But in the sub-continent, England and New Zealand, Yadav might perform work better as first-change bowler. His little movement could be unplayable at such pace and the reverse swing could become even more difficult.

Going by Virat Kohli’s five-bowler policy, the current combination should work well for India. Yadav is the only bowler who could generate pace even on dead tracks when nothing seems to be working for the other bowlers.

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