India A v South Africa A, Bengaluru August 10, 2018

Jayant Yadav's search for fun after freak injury

The offspinner suffered a stress fracture as a consequence of the way he grips the ball and the injury ripped him of his confidence. This is the story of how he's getting back on track

© AFP

When he was ten, British producer Richard Stokes was accompanied by his father to the 1956 Ashes Test at Old Trafford, where Jim Laker took ten wickets. Forty-three years later, while working in India, Stokes watched Anil Kumble repeat the feat against Pakistan at Feroz Shah Kotla. A certain Jayant Yadav was also in the stands at the Kotla that day, watching Kumble's perfect ten.

Seventeen years later, when Jayant made his Test debut for India against England at Visakhapatnam, Kumble was the head coach of India. Jayant claimed four wickets in that game, including that of Ben Stokes and Moeen Ali, in addition to scoring 62 runs. In the third Test in Mumbai, he became the first India No. 9 to hit a Test century.

Holding the ball is a feeling. For example, it's the feel of a particular pillow you sleep on

Just when his international career was set to take off, Jayant hit a roadblock in the form of a stress fracture of the finger, sidelining him from the 2017-18 Ranji Trophy and leaving him "disheartened". Following the injury, Jayant spent one-and-a-half months at home, allowing the bone to heal, before finding support from physio Ashish Kaushik and former India legspinner Narendra Hirwani at National Cricket Academy in Bengaluru.

"The stress fracture of the finger maybe happened because of the way I grip the ball," Jayant told ESPNcricinfo. "It just happened to me, it's a very rare injury. During that phase, you go through a lot of things and think 'why only me and stuff like that?' Injuries are a part and parcel of cricket. But until and unless it happens to you, you don't empathize with the fact about what it takes to overcome it. Not being able to play because of some injury is very, very disheartening. Especially, in my case since it was weird and freak injury.

"I spent three months at the NCA here and we did icing and flexion to get fit. Rehabs are sometimes boring, but I was lucky to have the NCA physio Ashish Kaushik with me and it was undocumented injury as far as I know. Hiru bhai was also here only when I started my bowling. We did not speak about skills as such and it was just about that mental strength to bounce back. Because your skill will always be there with you"

© BCCI

Jayant, however, conceded that he wasn't positive enough to tackle the injury and felt he could have done a lot better, mentally. "During that time, you think about how you could have done things differently, but at the end of the day, it has happened to you. In hindsight, I could have done better in terms of my mental preparation during my injury," he said. "It has happened to you and you have to be just positive. It's easier said than done. I myself wasn't positive. If I have another injury, touchwood! I don't have it, I have some experience to bank on."

So, has Jayant changed the way he grips the ball in light of injury? "I have and I haven't as well," he said. "It's a difficult question to answer. Holding the ball is a feeling and I have been doing it for years and years. So, it's difficult to describe how I've changed it. For example, it's the feel of a particular pillow you sleep on. It used to play on my mind but now I have freed myself up and moved on."

After returning to action in the 20-over Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy and the 50-over Vijay Hazare Trophy earlier this year, Jayant made it to the India A four-day squad for the England tour. However, he managed only five wickets in 103.3 overs in three games at an average of 73.60. Subsequently, he was not picked for the first four-dayer at home against South Africa A at Chinnaswamy Stadium.

T20 cricket is a like software. If you don't have updates, you will crash. It's about updating yourself and making subtle changes

Though Jayant has recovered from the injury, he insisted the fun wasn't fully back yet. He has a chance to rediscover that fun in the second four-dayer, where chief national selector MSK Prasad is likely to be in attendance.

"The fun is not fully back, you have that feel-good factor only when you contribute to a winning cause," he said." I haven't done that since my return from injury. When I do that consistently, the fun will be back."

Jayant's eyes, though, light up, when you draw his attention to R Ashwin's near-identical dismissals of Alastair Cook at Edgbaston.

"Whoa! That was classic, similar balls first and second innings," Jayant gushed. "Ash got Cook out in Mohali as well. It's always a learning curve bowling and training with Ash. In the sense, watching somebody on TV and then training with him is a completely different feeling. When you see India's premier spinner do the same things you do, you are also motivated and believe you can also get there. Ash always has been a very positive guy in terms of what he wants to and I just admire the way he thinks about the game."

When Jayant started playing cricket, he bowled legspin, but his two first cousins, who were also legspinners, tricked him into switching to offspin. Jayant said he was trying to expand his repertoire, and is currently working on the carrom ball.

"When I was a kid, my cousins told me there can be only n number of legspinners in the family (laughs). As for variations, I can't bowl the doosra, but the carrom ball is something that has been in progress for over a year. It's not coming out as well as I would like now. Bowling in the nets and bowling in a match are different things altogether. Hopefully, I get it out next year. Especially the way the white-ball game is changing, there is no shying away from variations. T20 cricket is a like software. If you don't have updates, you will crash. It's about updating yourself and making subtle changes."

Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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