With eight wickets from five matches in the recently concluded One Day International (ODI) series against New Zealand, Umesh Yadav finished as the second highest wicket-taker in the series, after Amit Mishra.
Though he was not hugely successful in the two Tests he played against New Zealand (getting just two wickets), the Test series against England that began on Wednesday in Rajkot will be another chance for the fast bowler to make amends. Before the start of the first Test, Yadav spoke about his future plans. Edited excerpts from an interview:
India are unbeaten in 13 Tests. Can you describe the dressing-room atmosphere at present?
This is a young team that is quickly gaining in experience. We are gelling well and the players are enjoying each other’s success by supporting one another on and off the field. Our main focus as a team is to win. We don’t think about losing and playing for a draw is secondary. This is not an individual aim, it is a collective one, which helps the team and helps our attitude.
What has been (coach) Anil Kumble’s impact on the fast bowlers?
He has told us to strive for consistency in bowling. He has stressed upon the importance of dot balls and stringing together maiden overs. It helps create pressure on the batsmen. It is not about bowling good overs, but good spells because our spinners are so good. So the focus of the fast bowlers is to get one-two wickets with the new ball and then later do the same when the ball starts reverse-swinging.
There are a lot of changes in the team. You sat out the third Test in the West Indies (in July), and then the second Test against New Zealand (last month). How does the team management handle this?
They handle it well. If you are playing well, you tend to feel about missing out sometimes. But today, the atmosphere in the dressing room is different. The focus is on wining so I don’t feel bad. Plus, if I play two matches continuously, and then sit out one game, it helps me rest a bit and rejuvenate.
You have developed a good partnership with Mohammed Shami…
Yes, we complement each other well. Our styles are similar, from pace to conventional swing, or even reverse swing. We spend a lot of time talking and planning, whether we are on the field, or just talking while the team is batting, or even at the breakfast table. We talk to each other between spells, and discuss how to bowl to a particular batsman, how to attack, etc.
You led the attack in the ODIs against New Zealand when senior bowlers were rested. How was it bowling with and guiding youngsters like Hardik Pandya and Jasprit Bumrah?
It increased my responsibility a bit, because when the captain throws the new ball at you, top-order wickets are needed. With Hardik, I discussed the importance of understanding the length to bowl at. Jasprit already has an idea where to bowl because he has played quite a few matches (both ODIs and T20s). He knows how to bowl with the new and old ball. He has good variations.
The players, mostly batsmen, have suffered injuries. But the bowlers have been rested too. Has the team management realized the importance of player management as compared to previous seasons?
Yes, I think so. If the same bowlers play three matches in a row, they will obviously bowl many overs. It is clear that we have to play a long home season, and so the impact is continuous. The BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India) and team management have understood this well. The two captains, Virat Kohli and M.S. Dhoni, and coach Kumble sat together ahead of the new season, and decided on this rotation policy. It helps the bench strength and it is important to rotate bowlers so they can serve Indian cricket longer.
India won (the Test series) 3-0 against New Zealand. It seemed easy, at least from the scorecards. Was it easy on the field?
It definitely wasn’t, because pitches this time were different from the South Africa series last year. They were not raging turners. They were normal Indian wickets. But our spinners were better throughout and that was the difference. It isn’t easy for visiting spinners in India because they take time to adjust to lengths and variations, and sometimes get carried away. Our spinners know these conditions well and they exploit their strengths.
The England series will be a tougher challenge with five back-to-back Tests.
I think it will be an enjoyable series for both sides. England are a good side and we are also playing our best cricket at the moment. Their batting is deep and our tail-enders are making runs too. We have good spinners, while their bowlers can use the reverse swing. I would say both teams are equally matched. We will have a lot of fun.
England have won here before, in 2012-13—the only team to beat India in India in recent times. Will that be a factor?
I don’t think so. They won here because they read the wickets well, and maybe we weren’t able to do so. It shows they have an idea how to play here, but we have also grown as a team since then. Every day is a new day and we aren’t looking at the past. The better team will win and their 2012 victory will have no bearing.
Chetan Narula is the author of Skipper—A Definitive Account Of India’s Greatest Captains.