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Jayant Yadav looks on the bright side

He made a fairy-tale Test debut and then fell out of favour, but he's taking it all philosophically

Saurabh Somani
Jayant Yadav celebrates his maiden Test ton, India v England, 4th Test, Mumbai, 4th day, December 11, 2016

Jayant Yadav made his maiden Test century in the company of Virat Kohli, becoming the first Indian batsman to score a Test hundred from No. 9  •  AFP

Jayant Yadav looked set for a long stint in the Indian team when he broke into it in 2016, taking four wickets and making 35 and 27 not out from No. 9 against England on debut. In his next Test, he was handed the ball ahead of the front-liners, R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, in the first innings, made 55 the only time he batted, and took four wickets. Better still, at the Wankhede, in his third Test, he became the first Indian batsman to hit a Test century from No. 9, and shared a 241-run stand with Virat Kohli. Then, one Test later, in which he took two wickets but didn't make an impression with the bat, Yadav was dropped from the XI, and hasn't made it back.
If he doesn't play again, he will end with Test batting and bowling averages of 45.60 and 33.36. The difference between the two, over 12 runs, puts him in the top-allrounder category (albeit with low barriers to entry: ten wickets and 100 runs).
That last Test was in Pune, when a Steven Smith masterclass pulled the rug out from under India's feet on a dustbowl. "I didn't pick up enough wickets, and neither did I create enough pressure from one end," Yadav says. "I was thinking, 'Turning wicket hai, turning wicket hai, you should get more wickets.'
"That was the first time in international cricket I was put under a lot of pressure by not doing well, and I think I just let that get to me. In hindsight, if I could change one thing, it would be to not think about wickets, just think about bowling good balls, creating pressure and a bowling partnership. Because on any wicket, seamer or turner, you need to put pressure to get good batsmen out. I think I just let the pressure go from one end."
It's the sort of admission you don't often hear from professional sportsmen, but what Yadav doesn't say is more remarkable. True, he didn't have a good outing in Pune, but though he wasn't in the XI for the rest of that memorable series, his showing against England kept him in the frame for the national side. However, a freak injury sustained shortly after the Australia series meant that the next time he bowled in a first-class match was more than a year later.
"You can't always think about getting into a particular team. Only 15 people are selected. It's a very competitive sport."
India's bench strength is perhaps at an all-time high, and it is easier to stay in the squad than to get in. Yadav's time out of the game in 2017-18 meant that he fell out of the reckoning for the third spinner's role. The injury, a stress fracture of the finger, took a while to diagnose, treat and rehabilitate, because it was uncommon, and even after he was physically fit, it would be a while before Yadav was "bowling fit", physically and mentally.
At the time, he was naturally downcast. But a couple of seasons on, his view on that roller-coaster year is philosophical. "I've had incredible highs and incredible lows in the past two-three seasons. But that's just part and parcel of life, you know? It just depends on how you take it," he says. "You can't do much about injuries. I've maintained this always - it's not about getting to one point or getting somewhere. It's all about enjoying that particular moment."
Yadav refuses to blame the injury for him not being within striking distance of the Indian Test team.
"I think I had decent opportunities. I played Ranji Trophy, I played a good one, one and a half years in the A team regularly," he says. "I have had opportunities after that. I went to England, I played Sri Lanka [both for India A]…
"See, I feel you can get disturbed by each and every thing, and you can get disturbed by nothing at all. Take this lockdown, for example. This is unprecedented. That's just Mother Nature telling us to live in the present and not think too much about the future. I think this is a very good wake-up call for everyone, because you never know what is going to happen.
"You can't always think about getting into a particular team. Only 15 people are selected. It's a very competitive sport.
"To make a comeback in the Indian Test team you have to be relentless and keep knocking on the door. I think one good Ranji season will get me back in the reckoning. Everybody has seen what I can do, the pros and cons. I've been there. It's about having that good season, getting into the India A set-up again, starting from scratch. If you do well in Ranji Trophy and then do well in India A, then only you get into the Test team. It's a very good filter."
What was it like when he was in that Test side? Particularly, what was playing alongside and under the captaincy of Kohli like?
"Virat never let the pressure get to me," Yadav says, of batting with the captain in that Mumbai Test of 2016. "He was telling me, 'Play however you are doing. Don't think too much about getting runs, or what will this bowler bowl in his next spell. Just play every ball. Build it, build it.' It was like things just fell into place. Actually I was out, I don't know at what score [when he was on 28 off 72 balls, in the 139th over] but I nicked the ball off Moeen Ali. But they didn't have a review remaining…
"Batting with Virat was fun. They kept putting fielders back because Virat was hitting boundaries at will. That helped me as well. He is such a dominant personality on the field and off it, it makes life much easier for his batting partner."
The Wankhede Stadium, which holds fond memories of that innings for Yadav, has since gone on to figure prominently in his life. He was traded to Mumbai Indians before the 2019 IPL, after a longish stint with Delhi Daredevils. In that team's spin-heavy set-up, he played only ten games across four seasons, so the move was welcome. He would have been playing right now if it weren't for the lockdown in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic - "I know, man!" - but Yadav is looking to accentuate the positives.
"I had never been part of a knockout in the IPL, and the first year I went to Mumbai, we won the championship. I got to play the qualifier in Chennai, and it was a completely different experience. It was great. The franchise is amazing.
"At the time of the lockdown, Rahul bhai [Sanghvi, the Mumbai Indians manager] called to check on us. It's a good call to receive. Mumbai takes care of their players very well.
"For training, we have a Mumbai Indians app called Team Builder, and we get workouts every day in the app, which you can do at home. Like, I have very basic, minimal equipment at home, so the workout is modified according to what you have. That one and a half to two hours you spend is really good."
In times of crisis, whether brought about by personal events or by worldwide ones, Yadav has learnt to smile at adversity. It may yet prove to be his pathway to better days.

Saurabh Somani is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo