England series

Selectors make inexplicable choices but none worse than not sending Umesh Yadav to England

Selectors make inexplicable choices but none worse than not sending Umesh Yadav to England
Photo Credit: Manan Vatsyayana/AFP
Experts agree that Yadav was very unlucky to miss out, especially as some of the inclusions are truly baffling.
The Indian cricket team's five-Test series against England, starting July 9, is yet another indication of India's unequalled heft in the cricket world, as series spanning most of the English summer are usually reserved for their great rivals, Australia. This is the first time India will be playing such a long series in England since 1959.

But has the Board of Control for Cricket in India done its team a great disservice by not finding room in its 18-member squad for the genuine pace and lift that Umesh Yadav provides? Most of the debate around the squad has been about the return of opening batsman Gautam Gambhir and the exclusion of swing bowler Zaheer Khan, but there is a strong argument to be made that it is the 26-year-old quick from Vidarbha who is most unlucky to miss out.

Last week, the BCCI announced an 18-member squad for the Test matches of the tour, comprising seven batsmen, three all-rounders, six bowlers and two wicketkeepers.

Out of the six bowlers and three all-rounders picked, seven are medium-pace or fast bowlers. That Yadav still missed the cut is a real shame, according to Ayaz Memon, a senior cricket journalist and commentator.

“He [Yadav] should have made the squad because he's the quickest bowler in the country along with Varun Aaron and he's shown himself to be an uncompromising fast bowler, in the sense that he doesn't cut down on his pace even though he's come back from injury," said Memon. "He's got a very natural outswinger, which bowled at his pace can be useful, especially in English conditions where the ball is likely to swing around."

One of the criticisms of Yadav has been that he was inconsistent and erratic in the nine Tests he has played for India, the last of which was back in November 2012. Yadav's only overseas tour since his debut in November 2011 was India's trip to Australia in 2011-'12, where he picked 14 wickets in four Test matches at a generous average of 39.35.

Back at home, on placid Indian surfaces, he took five wickets in two Tests against New Zealand and four scalps in a match against England at Ahmedabad, following which he injured his back and hasn't played for India in Tests even after his return to fitness in March 2013.

“There are two ways of looking at it,” said Dileep Premachandran, editor-in-chief of Wisden India. “He hasn't had the impact that was hoped for in the last couple of series that he's played. But he's also a young player and you would like to think that such players are given a longer rope to prove themselves.”

According to Premachandran, the problem is not so much Yadav being dropped, but who've been chosen in his place.

Here's a list of Indian quicks selected in the squad and Premachandran's observations on all:

Pankaj Singh: The 29-year-old has been a consistent performer in the Ranji Trophy for the last five years, in which he's taken 196 wickets – the highest by any bowler in India's premier first-class tournament. However, his performances have been in conditions favourable to medium-pace swing bowling. “International batsmen are not going to be disturbed by swing bowling at 125kph.”

Varun Aaron: The 24-year-old has only played one Test for India back in 2011 and is “as erratic as Yadav and far more injury-prone”, making him a massive risk for a five-Test series.

Ishwar Pandey: The 24-year-old is a promising prospect, but has failed to raise the bar. “I've spoken to Ranji Trophy coaches who are worried about the fact that he hasn't really improve as he should have in those two seasons. He's another unfinished article.”

Mohammed Shami: The 24-year-old can be genuinely quick on his day, but there are concerns over the physical toll his body has taken over the last few months, as he has “looked very flat during phases of the Indian Premier League”.

Ishant Sharma: The 25-year-old is India's most senior bowler in terms of experience, but after 50-odd Tests, “we still don't know which one will turn up. He bowled really well in New Zealand, but there have also been some terrible Test matches” interspersed between the good performances.

Bhuvneshwar Kumar: The 24-year-old is probably the only bowler who warrants a place not only in the squad, but also in the starting XI. His ability to swing the ball both ways would come in handy in English conditions, although he isn't very quick and that could stand against him.

Stuart Binny: The 30-year-old all-rounder has been a filler bowler even for Karnataka and his medium-paced seam-bowling “isn't going to keep any international batsman awake at night”.

“You look at that group of seven and you wonder whether Umesh would've been a better option because if there's one thing he does offer, it's genuine pace,” said Premachandran. “Umesh had his injury problems last year, but the little I saw of him towards the end of the IPL, he was very much back bowling at full pace and pretty well too. He was very quick and accurate as well.

Yadav took 11 wickets in 12 matches for Kolkata Knight Riders in IPL 2014, with a best of three of 13 in a play-off match, a performance that was instrumental in the team reaching the final. Kolkata went on to win the title.

“Umesh deserves a chance,” said Subroto Bannerjee, a former cricketer-turned coach who helped groom Yadav during his early days at Vidarbha. “Maybe his length hasn't been very consistent, but I would still pick him because he's a rare breed. You don't get bowlers in India who bowl at 146-147kph. You're wasting his talent.”

Memon added that Yadav should not be confined to only limited-overs cricket. “You should be a little more encouraging towards your quickest bowlers," he said.

 
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