Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Siraj give audition in India nets with fiery spells, ready as Jasprit Bumrah's cover
With a spot potentially up for grabs in the Indian squad for the T20 World Cup, Umesh Yadav and Mohammed Siraj came out all guns blazing in India's optional net session leading up to their second T20I against South Africa.
Despite their different styles, fast bowlers Umesh Yadav and Mohammed Siraj have a lot in common. They started their international careers with white-ball cricket, albeit eight years apart from each other, but slowly became more effective with the red ball. Both of them made good use of the off-season with fruitful county stints this year - Siraj for Warwickshire and Umesh for Middlesex. They were then suddenly drafted into India's T20I squad barely a few weeks before the World Cup as injury covers. On Friday, both were the centre of attraction in India's first training session at the Barsapara Cricket Stadium in Guwahati ahead of the second T20I against South Africa.
In sweltering conditions, which Dinesh Karthik described as "hotter than Chennai summers," Umesh and Siraj added a few notches to the temperature with their pace and breathed life into an otherwise uneventful optional net session. Keeping the unnaturally hot and humid conditions and the growing list of injuries in mind, the majority of India's first XI players decided to skip Friday's net session. Those who turned up were easily overshadowed by Siraj and Umesh.
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The right-arm pacers gave a mini audition in front of head coach Rahul Dravid for the T20 World Cup. Both of them are very much in the race along with Mohammed Shami and Deepak Chahar to fill in for Jasprit Bumrah if the latter's scans reveal something serious and rule him out of the marquee tournament. Bumrah is already sidelined from the South Africa series, paving the way for Siraj to return to the T20I scheme of things in the remaining two matches.
Umesh, on the other hand, was drafted into the squad in similar circumstances when Shami tested positive for Covid-19 ahead of the Australia series.
Umesh breathes fire
Among the multiple net sessions that Umesh has had since returning to the shortest format of the game after a gap of more than three and half years, this afternoon was probably his best. One ideally shouldn't read much into the outcomes of a net session, that too an optional one, with only a few players present but such was Umesh's rhythm that it didn't take long for everyone - the net bowlers, ball boys, even the the security personnel, to get involved and create a match-like atmosphere.
"Chalo chalo Umesh ko ball daalte hue udhar se dekhte hai (Let's go there, we can get a clear view of Umesh bowling)," quipped one of the young teenagers from the group, driving a big chunk of them towards the right side of the nets just to watch the 34-year-old go about his business. The reaction came after Umesh had subjected Rishabh Pant to a barrage of short-pitched deliveries, leaving the wicketkeeper-batter huffing and puffing. Not often does Pant get hurried into his shots but Umesh managed to get make him do that on quite a few occasions. "Out hi karna hai na bas (You are only trying to get me out, right)?" Pant said with a wry smile after one of Umesh's bouncers whizzed past his helmet, almost asking the veteran to take it easy.
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After Pant, it was fellow wicketkeeper Karthik's turn to face the music. The right-hander lost his stumps to one of those deadly Umesh in-dippers. Karthik too was peppered with the short stuff. Even Shreyas Iyer wasn't spared. It wasn't clear whether it was a deliberate ploy to bowl bouncers in the nets to prepare for the Australian conditions but the one making the most of it was Umesh Yadav.
There could be two reasons behind the spring in Umesh Yadav's step - on his recent exploits with the new ball in the IPL and his experience of playing Down Under, there is a genuine scope for him to sneak into the World Cup squad if Bumrah fails to recover. And secondly, he has once again started to feel comfortable in the blues after being with the team for about 10-12 days.
Siraj started after Umesh finished. The Hyderabad energy-machine looked in good shape - the number of overs bowled in County cricket evident in his good rhythm and smooth releases.
Shami is likely to be the frontrunner to be moved to the standby list and into the main squad if Bumrah's injury is serious but the lack of match practice - his last T20I was in the 2021 T20 World Cup in Dubai - might go against him. Considering Deepak Chahar's sameness with Bhuvneshwar Kumar, it may come down to a toss-up between Umesh and Siraj.