Classrooms in the Government Higher Secondary School in Walani, a village 25 km off Nagpur, are cramped and students are packed into them. Each room has the photographs of freedom fighters, but in one room the children have an extra picture to look up to. It is someone who studied in that room, an inspirational figure they can connect with and whose stories they don't have to read in a book. It is their own Umesh Yadav, the humble coal miner's son who has gone on to become India's fastest bowler.Playing for India was never a raging dream, but raw talent has got the 27-year-old to where he is now. The first thing that strikes one about Umesh is his physique. His father Tilak Yadav is a retired loader in the Western Coalfields. Wrestling in his younger days and manual labour gave Yadav senior a strong physique, and his sons have inherited that.
"I made sure he drank a lot of milk and ate dal, sometimes ghee was added to them. There was no compromise on nutrition. We also had a cow in the house," says Yadav, 63, who is originally from Deoria village in Uttar Pradesh.
Energy to burn
The high-calorie diet provided ceaseless energy and Umesh played any sport he could in the nearby playground. Cricket, rubber and tennis-ball versions, is a craze in the region and prizemoney tournaments drew Umesh and his friends to the game."Babloo (Umesh) used to bunk school to play these tournaments. I would find out, and he would run away or hide behind his (late) mother when I retur ned from work," says Yadav, at their plush single-storey house in Khaperkheda, near Nagpur.
The family used to live on a meagre income, but the money he got from playing gave Umesh enough for his expenses, and to spend on clothes and sunglasses - two things he still splurges on.
His father wanted Umesh to go to college, something none of his family members had managed to. His elder brothers and sister are school dropouts. "I am illiterate," says Yadav, indicating his thumb. "My eldest son studied till 12th, the second did not clear 10th. I wanted Umesh to go to college so that he could get a stable job, unlike me," he adds.
"He is yet to finish graduation, cricket has not allowed him to," chuckles Shailesh Thakare, Umesh's best friend and manager.
Umesh saw playing cricket only as a way to earn extra money. Becoming a havaldar in the army or a police constable, both secure jobs, seemed more sensible. He narrowly failed to make the cut in either on his first attempt. By the time he appeared for the police job again, cricket had become more prominent in his life.
Education opened further avenues in sports. Umesh was also a sprinter, but it was not easy to get into a cricket team. He had hardly bowled with a leather ball, played for a club or even owned a pair of bowling spikes.
Finally, with the help of a friend, Umesh got a chance to play for Vidarbha Gymkhana. His first match was against Ruby Sporting, the club of then Ranji coach Usman Ghani.
"I was persuaded to see him bowl; he had dismissed some big names in the local circuit. I saw him at another match after that. He was erratic but had pace. He has those natural, fast twitch fibres," says Ghani.
Intimidating with pace
"I called him for trials against the Ranji batsmen. He intimidated them with pace, and they started backing away to the leg side. It took a year to train him. Specialised coaching routines were prepared for him and opinions were sought from National Cricket Academy coaches. Pritam Gandhe, the Vidarbha Ranji captain, took him to Mumbai to play for Air India on a stipend," says Ghani. "He attended the Ranji trials, but I still had to convince the selectors to pick him. Subroto Banerjee (then bowling coach at the Vidarbha Cricket Association) worked extensively on him."
Vidarbha finally saw the prospect of producing an India player and supported Umesh in every way possible. "When I was initially told of Umesh, I wasn't convinced of his pace, but I was stunned to see him bowl," says Banerjee. "He had not been coached before, so he could be moulded."
Banerjee had to inculcate professionalism and adaptability. "His background had made him tough. But he needs constant feedback, and keeps in touch with me," adds the ex-India pacer.
Striking it big
Soon after his Ranji debut in 2008, Umesh came into national reckoning after dismissing Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman in a Duleep Trophy match.
Says Gani: "I was at the NCA in Bangalore, and Dav Whatmore (then NCA chief) called me out of my coaching class to inform, 'your boy has scalped the wickets of the big two. He is extremely fast'."
In 2011, while he was away for a match, his mother Kishori Devi passed away following prolonged ailment. She was a diabetic and by the time her family could afford her the best healthcare, it was too late. "We never told him about our mother's condition because he wouldn't have been able to concentrate. It took him a few days to digest the news," says eldest brother, Ramesh.
Umesh's income zoomed when Delhi Daredevils picked him for $750,000 in 2011. It called for money management while new friends swarmed him overnight and had to be kept out. Ramesh and Thakare (also called Mithun) handle his finances. Investments have been made in real estate and in an insurance venture.
"Umesh never had many friends because he never had the money to hang out. That has not changed. His friends have not changed. Some still stay in the Walani miner's quarters," says Mithun.
Ramesh, adds: "He (Umesh) built the house so that the family could stay together. He also told me to quit my job as a welder in Goa and return to manage the family. He is providing for our families too."With the high demand fast bowling makes on the body, his close ones are already planning his life beyond cricket. "He can't keep playing for long, nor does he have the skill to become a commentator or coach. We are ensuring he doesn't have to worry about his finances," says Mithun.