With the next edition of the ICC T20 World Cup coming up in Australia at the end of the year, the 34-year-old fast bowler is eager to make a comeback to the Indian white-ball teams. Umesh, who has played only 7 T20Is in his career so far and taken 9 wickets, is eyeing the upcoming Indian Premier League (IPL) 2022 edition as a stepping stone to make it to the Indian limited-overs side. He spoke to TimesofIndia.com recently about this and much more. He hasn’t played an ODI since October 2018.
Umesh will be playing for two time IPL champions the Kolkata Knight Riders this season, a team he has played for earlier as well. KKR picked up the experienced pacer at his base price of Rs. 2 crore.
Not getting enough opportunities in white-ball cricket almost cost Umesh an IPL contract this time. The 34-year-old from Nagpur, who has 119 wickets in 121 IPL matches so far, went unsold twice in the IPL 2022 player auction. However, when the auctioneer took his name for the third time, KKR showed faith in the Indian pacer and bought him for his base price.
Umesh was part of the victorious KKR team that clinched the IPL title in the 2014 edition.
Image credit: KKR/BCCI/IPL
In an exclusive interview with TimesofIndia.com, the 34-year-old Umesh, who has 158 Test wickets and 106 ODI wickets under his belt, spoke about KKR’s title chances this year, Ajinkya Rahane‘s captaincy that took India to their second Test series win in Australia, India’s dismal show in South Africa, new India captain Rohit Sharma and much more.
Umesh spoke to TimesofIndia.com before IPL 2022 began.
You have represented Delhi Daredevils (now Delhi Capitals), Kolkata Knight Riders, Royal Challengers Bangalore, Delhi Capitals again and are now back again with KKR. How does it feel to be with a tem you won the IPL title with earlier?
Over the last five-six seasons, I travelled a lot. I played for KKR and then moved to RCB and then Delhi. And now again back to KKR. So, it’s been a hectic journey for me. I played a lot of red-ball games so there was a perception that I can’t play the white ball game. In 2020, I played just 2 games for RCB. After that, I joined Delhi Capitals and I didn’t get a single game. There has been a huge gap now. I haven’t played white-ball cricket for quite some time now. Not just in IPL, for the country too.
We need opportunities and chances in white-ball cricket to perform. So, there won’t be any specific perception and players are not tagged as red-ball or white ball specialists. If you are not getting opportunities in white ball cricket, how will you prove yourself? Not just me, there are very senior players who have performed really well in red-ball cricket but are not getting a chance in the IPL.
Image credit: Umesh Yadav’s Twitter handle
When my name came up in the last auction, I went unsold. When my name came up for the second time, I again went unsold. KKR picked me when my name was called for the third time. I am really thankful to KKR for picking me and showing faith in me. I played for KKR from 2014 to 2017 and maintained a good relationship with them.
I am really happy and excited to be back at KKR again. I am sure our captain Shreyas will take KKR to a title win. We have got a strong squad. I was part of this squad in 2014 when they won the title and I am happy to be back.
You will be sharing the ball with the likes of Pat Cummins and Tim Southee at KKR…
I have already played with Pat Cummins. We shared the dressing room when I was with Delhi. We had a good time. When I joined RCB, Tim Southee was there. So, I have played with both of them before. Both are really amazing and talented bowlers.
Image credit: BCCI/IPL
KKR have got a solid bowling attack and we have got a big chance to lift the trophy this time. Southee is playing a lot of white-ball cricket. Cummins plays all formats. Both are amazing bowlers. It is going to be fun. I am eager to share the ball with both of them and win as many matches for KKR as possible.
You played your last ODI match in 2018 and last T20I in 2019. Do you see IPL 2022 as a stepping stone to make it back to limited-overs cricket for the country?
Definitely. This is a great thing that happened to me that I joined KKR again. I am hoping to play as many games for KKR as possible and send out a message that I am a white-ball cricketer too. If I do well, I am sure the selectors will look at me and give me the chance once again in limited-overs cricket. For that, I will have to be at my best in the IPL. I have to push hard for that chance. I am confident that I will make it to white-ball cricket for India again.
Ajinkya Rahane is part of the KKR squad this time. You were part of the Rahane-led Indian Test team that defeated Australia in their own den in 2020. How difficult was it for him to re-energise a team which was 0-1 down in a foreign series and also hit with multiple injury blows?
Ajinkya was just amazing. He did a fabulous job there. The way he handled the team was amazing. (Some) senior players weren’t there. After the first game, Virat came back home (on paternity leave). After the second game, I got injured. Other players were getting injured, but Rahane stayed positive. That was the best part.
Playing an overseas series with new boys and a new team is obviously difficult. In the last Test match of the series, Siraj was the most-experienced bowler in the eleven. He was 2 Tests old. He was playing his third Test in the last Test match. Rahane really did a great job. He gave his all in that series. The way he brought the team together, motivated the players and took every single player forward was commendable. He backed every single player. He played ‘Dil se’.
After losing the first Test and that too by a huge margin, it was difficult for a team to make a comeback. But the way Rahane led the team and injected confidence in the team was amazing and incredible to see. He said ‘we are here to win’. After the second Test, everything changed. Everyone was positive and pumped up.
India missed out on a big opportunity to win their maiden Test series in South Africa recently though. What went wrong?
There were injury niggles and problems. Sometimes, you have to manage with that. We had won the first Test. After winning the first Test, we should have played the way we did in the opening Test match in the other two Tests as well. A bowler needs support from the other end. If Bumrah is bowling well, he will expect good support from other bowlers from the other end. The support should have been there.
Siraj got injured in the second Test. In the third Test, Shardul and I should have performed better. I didn’t bowl the way I always do. I didn’t bowl well against South Africa and I accept it. If you have fewer runs on the board, then your bowlers will have to bowl tight from the word go. If they are not doing that , then it is a big problem.
India have the likes of Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah, Umesh Yadav, Shardul Thakur and Mohammed Siraj currently in their Test pace armoury. Ishant also played till very recently. Will you say this is India’s best pace attack ever?
Yes, of course. After a long time, we won a Test series in Australia and then repeated that success in 2020. This shows you have bowled well. A team needs to take 20 wickets to win a match and when bowlers are doing it that shows you have got a strong bowling lineup. We have been dominating for the last 4 to 5 years.
Umesh Yadav and Mohammed Shami (AFP Photo)
This Indian team has bowlers who can take 20 wickets in a Test. There are a lot of changes. You have bowlers who can bowl 140 plus. They are mature. They have the ability to acclimatise as per any condition and situation. These bowlers are aggressive and hungry for success. This is what takes us forward. Shami, Ishant and I have played a lot of cricket now. Bumrah and Siraj are there. They are performing so well. We are happy to see these newcomers perform and cement their place in the team. The Indian pace attack is in safe hands. Actually be it bowling or batting, India’s bench strength is as strong as the main team strength.
Virat Kohli is no longer the captain of the Indian cricket team. The team has a new captain in Rohit Sharma. Your thoughts on that…
I have so many memories with Virat. When I took my first 10 wicket haul vs West Indies, Virat was my captain. When I claimed my first five-wicket haul, Virat was my captain. I toured Australia for the first time and claimed a five-wicket haul in Perth. Virat was my captain that time too. I have very good memories with him. We have won so many series under his captaincy. I have enjoyed playing with him and have had a long journey with him. As a captain he is amazing.
Umesh Yadav and Virat Kohli (AFP Photo)
Virat is a good friend and human being. Rohit is a fantastic captain. He handles situations well and his decision-making abilities are amazing. He understands his players and knows how to use them on the field. I wish him all the best and may he win a lot of matches for the country. We will support Rohit the way we supported Virat.
India will be playing the T20 World Cup this year and then the 50-over World Cup next year. Do you see yourself boarding Team India’s World Cup bus?
Definity. For that, I will have to give my best in the IPL. I am confident that I will have a good time in this year’s IPL. I hope to have a good IPL season. I am trying to push hard. I am hopeful of making the cut for the T20 World Cup this year and next year’s ODI World Cup as well.