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IPL 2022 – Stories | Indian Premier League

Cast aside for two years, Umesh Yadav returns to prove that the fire’s still burning bright

Umesh Yadav IPL
by Shashwat Kumar 4 minute read

Shashwat Kumar was present in Mumbai to witness the irrepressible Umesh Yadav bury old white-ball demons against CSK and RCB, rekindling an old tale of new-ball excellence in a renewed avatar with KKR.

Years ago, Umesh Yadav shot to fame with the Kolkata Knight Riders in the Indian Premier League. But when he was re-acquired by the franchise in 2022, it almost seemed an afterthought – a move perceived to make up the numbers rather than welcoming back one of their most fearsome bowlers.

Over the past few seasons, Umesh hasn’t had it easy in white-ball cricket. If anything, his stocks have dropped since 2019 and he has hardly featured in the IPL. All that seemingly changed, though, with KKR deciding to place their trust in him for the opening fixture against the Chennai Super Kings in 2022.

At the start, it seemed a decision that was borne out of compulsion. Pat Cummins, who is expected to lead the KKR attack, is not available until after the first week. Shivam Mavi remains a greenhorn. Andre Russell can spray the ball around. Lockie Ferguson, part of the setup last year, is not in the KKR mix anymore.

Yet, when Umesh marked out his run-up to face off against Ruturaj Gaikwad, the current Orange Cap holder, few would have felt that KKR and Umesh had made their plans for that exact moment. It wasn’t something they had stumbled upon by accident, though. Instead, it was something that they, unlike many teams in recent memory, took a gamble on.

Against CSK, there were a lot of things going against Umesh. He was bowling on a surface that is usually unforgiving for bowlers and against a strong batting unit. Quite often, his lack of control and tendency to bowl loose deliveries every over has been punished on such pitches. His death-overs bowling, in particular, has stuck out like a sore thumb. In that phase, since the start of 2019, he has conceded runs at an economy rate of 14.37.

This time, there was something different about Umesh. Not only did he seem to have more control, he had a spring in his step – a spring that has been missing in the past few seasons, and one many felt had completely vanished from his T20 cabinet. More importantly, he was bowling at a time when he is most comfortable – in the powerplay.

The first ball he bowled to Gaikwad zipped through and struck the body even before the youngster could get his bat down. But he had overstepped. This was probably the last contingency KKR and Umesh had prepared for, and they now had to find a way around it. The seamer didn’t flinch. He regathered his breath and bowled a vicious out-swinging delivery – a delivery Gaikwad couldn’t connect with.

A wide followed, making those at the venue wonder if this was just another erratic and frustrating version of Umesh. This wasn’t that iteration, though. This Umesh was different. It was fast. It was nasty. He was moving the ball both ways. And, it had the beating of one of the best young batters in the IPL.

Umesh wasn’t happy by just dismissing Gaikwad. In the fifth over, he induced a false stroke off Devon Conway. This scalp didn’t quite see him hoop the ball around corners. Yet, it was accomplished because the ball came onto the batter a lot quicker than he had expected. A few days later against the Royal Challengers Bangalore, Umesh raised his performance a few notches further. KKR were defending a paltry total but with the fast bowler on song, helping them find a way to get back into the game.

In the opening over itself, Umesh left his mark. He landed the ball on a perfect length, making it seam away from Anuj Rawat just enough to square him up. The youngster could only hopelessly fend at the delivery and feather the ball through to the keeper.

That excitement, though, almost evaporated as Virat Kohli waltzed out to bat. For those unaware, Kohli was the RCB captain when Umesh’s downward spiral began. In 2019, the seamer only picked up eight wickets in 11 games and leaked runs at an economy rate of 9.8. The poor returns meant that the former RCB skipper also became increasingly reluctant to include the pacer in the playing eleven, given his propensity to bleed runs. In fact, the fast bowler only played twice during the 2020 season.

Come 2022, Umesh most certainly had doubters to silence. At the back of his mind, though, he would’ve been aware that a poor display would only prove Kohli’s decision to bench hm, right.

The first two deliveries were nervy. The first ball was short and was crisply punched through extra cover. A ball later, he drifted onto the pads and was neatly clipped for another boundary. But when the third over came along, he took in a deep breath, bowled with trademark fire, and got the ball to talk, just the right amount. Almost immediately, he reaped his rewards. He forced Kohli to have a waft at a length delivery. It wasn’t too dissimilar in line to the ball he punched. This one, though, had just enough seam movement to kiss the outside edge and fly through to the keeper.

The wicket, apart from deflating RCB’s hopes, also took Umesh level with Trent Boult, as far as wickets in the powerplay (IPL) since 2017 are concerned: this was his 29th scalp during the field restrictions – with Deepak Chahar leading the list. The stat clearly shows that Umesh did something right before being frozen out of various IPL teams since the start of 2020.

Umesh’s balls per wicket ratio, however, is far more superior than that of Boult and Chahar. While the Kiwi takes a wicket every 24.2 balls in the powerplay, Chahar does so every 23.18 balls. Umesh does so every 18.2 balls, meaning that if he bowls three overs during the field restrictions, chances are that he will pick up a wicket. For further context, Bumrah and Shami pick up a wicket every 27.6 and 33.6 balls, respectively.

Unfortunately, Umesh hasn’t been able to venture into his preferred habitat frequently. If anything, his old-ball record, which isn’t great, has been used against him and has led captains to not believe in his new-ball abilities altogether. He only played two games in the 2020 edition and was not used at all during IPL 2021, despite being fit. With his IPL 2022 displays, though, he might just be telling the rest of the world that this trade-off is worth it.

Against CSK and RCB, Umesh bowled three overs [each] in the powerplay. He has four wickets to show for his toils too. Towards the end against CSK, he was slapped for a boundary by MS Dhoni. But if he can keep rattling batters at the top, KKR might not need to worry about the death-overs. He has been that good. Umesh also has nine Player of the Match awards in the IPL, which is the second-best tally for all specialist bowlers to have played in the league, highlighting that he can be a genuine match-winner on his day.

At 34, Umesh isn’t getting any younger and it seems that the Indian white-ball bus has passed him by too. Yet, if India are willing to look in his direction again, they will find a highly motivated bowler, longing to make up for lost time. And if he is used properly, there is still a world-class bowler somewhere in there.

After all, that’s what happened years ago at KKR, and that is what is happening at KKR in 2022 again. There’s something about this story. KKR and Umesh. KKR, Umesh, and the new ball. KKR, Umesh, the new ball, and jaw-dropping performances.

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