To say that Umesh Yadav isn’t India Virat Kohli’s preferred pace bowling option would not be completely false. With the likes of Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and all-rounder Hardik Pandya taking prominent roles in the pace department across formats, it has been slim pickings for the rest.

Yadav, in particular, has been warming the bench for some time now, occasionally getting a chance to shine only in Tests. However that arrangement too seems to have have changed in recent times. The 30-year-old warmed the bench all through the four-Test series in South Africa. He wasn’t even part of India’s squad for the limited-overs series that followed.

To make matters worse, Yadav has never been known for his T20 prowess. With one T20 international appearance way back in 2012, his stock in the shortest format has never quite risen high enough to be taken seriously.

The context only adds intrigue to the fiery spells the Vidarbha lad has been dishing out in the ongoing Indian Premier League, wowing not just the fans, but also Kohli under whom Yadav is plying his trade at the Royal Challengers Bangalore franchise.

At the Chinnaswamy Stadium on Friday, Yadav was given the second over. He was tonked for a few boundaries by Agarwal bringing Kohli’s reservations to the fore. But, he had a point to prove. With a man bun to boot, the speedster ran towards the popping crease with gusto for his second over.

He produced one of the most fiery spells of T20 cricket, backed by his biggest strength - raw pace.

The 30-year-old bagged three wickets in an over to blow away the Kings XI Punjab batting top-order. Agarwal was the first man to be dismissed by Yadav as he got just enough swing to get the batsman edge one to the keeper. He trapped the dangerous Aaron Finch leg before off the very next delivery to get two wickets in two balls. While he could not quite get the hat-trick, he wasn’t finished yet. He would beat Yuvraj Singh’s defence with some serious pace and shatter his middle stump.

The effort helped snuff out Kings XI’s push for a big score after their sprightly start.

And this is the kind of spell Yadav must have been dreaming off since he was picked in RCB during the IPL auction as it provided him an opportunity to get back into the good graces of Indian cricket’s current show-runner - Kohli.

Umesh Yadav's effort not only turned the tide in RCB’s favour, but also earned him his first IPL Man of the match award since 2015. Photo: Sportzpics/IPL
Umesh Yadav's effort not only turned the tide in RCB’s favour, but also earned him his first IPL Man of the match award since 2015. Photo: Sportzpics/IPL

Fast and furious

But the going hasn’t been easy. In RCB’s opening game in Kolkata, Kohli brought Yadav into the attack only in the sixth over. Sunil Narine had blasted away the rest of RCB’s bowlers in the powerplay. The 30-year-old dutifully sent Narine back in the hut off his second ball. He finished with figures of 2/27 in the game making his pace do the talking. It wasn’t just a statement for the opposition, but also for the captain, who clearly was hesitant of giving the responsibility of leading the attack to the speedster.

With his effort of 3/27 in Bengaluru on Friday, Yadav has earned him some brownie points.

“I’ve been trying too many variations, so was giving away too many runs,” he admitted after the game. “Here, I wanted to keep it simple. That’s what Ashish Nehra and Virat Kohli told me. They said ‘attack the stumps, bowl fast and don’t bowl too many variations.’ I tried my best to bowl the hard lengths and bowl into the wicket.”

Bowling well over the 140-kmph mark, Yadav was breathing fire through his spell. He pitched the ball just back of length for much of his spell leaving batsmen rooted in their crease. He would surprise the batsmen with full length delivery at considerable pace, putting them in awkward position, only to reap the rewards of a false shot. He bowled just four full deliveries in his four overs, picking up three wickets off them.

Yadav’s effort not only turned the tide in RCB’s favour, but also earned him his first IPL Man of the match award since 2015.

With confidence-boosting spells in the first two games, it’s safe to say that Yadav will be Kohli’s go-to man to head the pace-department in this edition of the IPL. Will it help restore his captain’s faith in him in the national team? Fortunately for the 30-year-old, he’s brought his A-game early in the competition and Kohli has a ringside view of him working his fire-breathing magic.