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Evergreen Umesh turns back the clock on KKR homecoming

Last updated on 26 Mar 2022 | 10:06 PM
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Evergreen Umesh turns back the clock on KKR homecoming

On Saturday, Shreyas Iyer’s KKR side found an unlikely hero

Despite reaching the final of the 2021 edition, the Eoin Morgan-led Kolkata Knight Riders side had its fair share of noticeable flaws. One of which was its inability to strike in the powerplay. 

Among the eight franchises, only Rajasthan Royals, Sunrisers Hyderabad and Royal Challengers Bangalore struck less often in the first six overs than the Knight Riders (once every 32.2 balls). Predominantly playing in Sharjah in the second half of the season helped them not just mitigate but pretty much overcome the issue, but what was evident was that KKR’s pace attack needed bolstering.

The franchise’s decision at the auction table to splash a combined sum of 16 crore on three players it had last season — Shivam Mavi, Pat Cummins and Tim Southee — was in itself questionable, but something everyone tended to unanimously agree on was the fact that Umesh Yadav was not the solution to their problems. 

34 and having not played a single game in the entirety of the 2021 season, Umesh was snapped up in the accelerated auction by the Knight Riders for his base price of 2.00 crore. And though the KKR camp was all smiles after purchasing the discarded veteran, it was hard to not think that they decided to get hold of Umesh only because they missed out on all their primary targets, and not because of what he actually brought to the table. 

Certainly, Umesh’s showings across his previous two IPL seasons — 8 wickets in 13 games at an average of 56.8 and ER of 10.1 — gave no one a valid reason to believe that he was a shrewd signing.

Just to be clear, in spite of what unfolded at the Wankhede today, the jury is still very much out on Umesh. He has, however, already won more matches for the franchise than 99% of the people thought he would. This alone is a major win. 

A fair share of credit for Umesh’s success against CSK needs to go to the Knight Riders’ think-tank. As attested by the man himself, it took courage on the part of the coach and the captain to not just pick him in the starting XI, but throw him the new ball. Mind you, prior to Saturday, Umesh hadn’t featured in an IPL game in 549 days. 

But even then, the opening night of the 2022 edition of the Indian Premier League was all about Umesh himself. How he made the whole world eat humble pie. How he made the CSK batters dance to his tunes. How it took him all of 18 balls to mark the perfect homecoming and win the hearts of millions of KKR fans in an instant. 

For a tiny second, it did seem like Umesh, unfortunately, was about to prove everyone right as he overstepped on the very first ball of the competition. One ball into his comeback, the ‘told you so’ comments already started flooding social media. 

The inauspicious start, though, was no Harmison-England circa 2007. It instead turned out to be a decoy as what followed was an electric three-over burst that turned out to be the perfect appetizer for the main course that is IPL 2022. 

On a juicy Wankhede wicket that offered plenty of pace and bounce, not only were Umesh’s speeds up from the get go — he clocked 137, 138 and 139 in the first three balls — his movement terrorized and bamboozled the opening batter, in this case Ruturaj Gaikwad. Twice in the first three balls, Gaikwad was cut in half with the ball jagging back in sharply. Intentionally or unintentionally, this turned out to be the near perfect set-up as the ball that did get him out swung late and left the bat. Gaikwad had no clue, his feet going nowhere. 

The electrifying first over pretty much set the tone for the rest of the night; it felt like a statement in itself.

One does associate these magic deliveries and overs from Umesh; it’s what he’s renowned for. What he’s not renowned for is discipline, and quite unexpectedly, it was the right-armer’s consistency that helped him bowl the near-perfect new-ball spell. 

Umesh Yadav's 2nd and 3rd over in the powerplay vs CSK

Once the movement died down, post over number one, Umesh did not go for glory in the rest of the powerplay. He instead kept rigorously hitting the 6m-9m mark at full pace, bowling a staggering 91% of the balls in that channel. He eventually reaped benefits for his persistence and consistency as it was a back-of-a-length delivery that resulted in the undoing of Devon Conway, who played a false stroke that was a byproduct of the bowler hitting the same area over and over again.  

By pretty much doing what he does on his good days in Test cricket, Umesh ended up ravaging the CSK top-order: 3-0-12-2 read his figures at the end of the powerplay and it was a blow hard enough to rattle the defending champions, who never fully recovered. 

The question that lies ahead for KKR is how often they can expect spells like these from Umesh; if the ploy to bank on him as the primary new ball bowler will be sustainable and effective. While it might not be realistic to expect the 34-year-old to deliver match-winning spells of the same intensity game in and game out, the numbers tell that he can, in fact, be confidently relied upon with the new ball to do a job for the side.

Since 2015, only Sandeep Sharma (36) and Deepak Chahar (43) have taken more powerplay wickets in the IPL than Umesh (34). But among all bowlers to have taken 20 or more powerplay wickets in this period, no one has a better strike rate than the Vidarbha man. And quite staggeringly, his economy during the phase has been lower than that of the well-celebrated Chahar. 

These numbers, and the performance today, certainly suggest that Umesh can be more than a handful if and when things fall into place. How often it actually happens, could go a long way in deciding the Knight Riders’ fate this season. 

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