Yash Dayal is a fearless bowler, and he loves bowling the bouncer. On his IPL debut against Rajasthan Royals, he was smashed for two fours and a six in the space of four balls by an in-form Jos Buttler, but Dayal didn't hold back and banged in another bouncer. He couldn't get Buttler out, but he was not going down meekly in this battle.
Nearly 10 days later, Gujarat Titans were defending 156 against Kolkata Knight Riders, and again, the left-arm quick resorted to his bouncers. He had already dismissed Shreyas Iyer and Rinku Singh, and when Andre Russell took strike, Dayal sent down three bouncers in a row to one of the most feared batters in T20 cricket. The first one Russell ducked under, the second was edged for four, and the third got Russell in an awkward position when he fended to fine leg, but Dayal had overstepped.
"I will be competitive and aggressive even if the batsman is going after me, there won't be any change in that," Dayal told ESPNcricinfo before the Ranji Trophy semi-finals. "Backing yourself is very important. A lot of things can come to mind [while bowling], but I try to back my instincts as much as possible. Then I bowl what is my strength, like a bouncer or yorker… balls I have confidence in, and I have mastered. I try to bowl those when things aren't working properly like when I've been struck for a few boundaries in an over.
"I was obviously nervous [on IPL debut], but I was not looking at the batsman. I was just focusing on what to bowl. I knew there would be pressure. He [Buttler] hit one boundary, then another, and I was not thinking that Jos Buttler is batting, but which is my best ball that can get him out. Unfortunately, that didn't happen. And I was not worrying too much about what if he hits me, how many people are watching this game, etc. I just thought it's a game, it may or may not go in my favour, but I must focus on doing my best.
"I knew the bouncer is my strength. Whether it's Jos Buttler or Andre Russell, I try to bowl my best ball and that happened too when I got Russell out, but it was a no-ball. At that time, I felt like I had committed a crime. I felt horrible. The captain and senior players motivated me, they said, 'focus on the coming overs, it's not like he can't get out again.' But at the same time, I was feeling horrible, thinking what have I done?"
"My father has helped a lot in teaching how to shine [the ball] when it gets old, how to maintain it to reverse." Yash Dayal
Dayal, 24, had played fewer than 15 T20 games when he came into the IPL and is currently playing only his 16th first-class game, the Ranji Trophy semi-final for Uttar Pradesh against Mumbai. His aggressive attitude might have leaked a few runs too many - his economy rate was 9.25 after nine IPL games for 11 wickets - but it also fetched him some big wickets: Ruturaj Gaikwad, Shreyas Iyer, Aiden Markram and Quinton de Kock, among others. Dayal believes he has come out of the tournament a much-improved bowler, having been under the tutelage of the former India left-arm quick Ashish Nehra, who is the head coach of Titans.
"Ashish Nehra backed me a lot from the beginning," Dayal says. "Earlier I used to try a lot of different things and experiment. But Ashish sir taught me that one must be centered and focused, and taught me some basic plans to follow without taking too much pressure and not being harsh on yourself. It's a very competitive level of cricket so you must be smart too."
With his ability to swing the new ball and ace the slower ones and cutters, Dayal quickly became Mohammed Shami's settled new-ball partner at Titans. Nehra, whose hands-on methods have been credited by several players for Titans' success, had done his homework on Dayal. He knew what work was needed on him, and held separate net sessions to hone the bowler's skills.
"[He taught me] seam position for outswing, how to position the hand if you're bowling inswing," Dayal says, listing his learnings from Nehra. "He made me work on control a lot. He said how you deliver and execute is crucial, like how you bowl to the openers initially, what's your plan for them, different plans for death overs."
Despite his high economy rate through the IPL, the Titans management, Dayal says, backed him and captain Hardik Pandya let him take his own decisions on the field, which further boosted his confidence.
"Ashish Nehra was like a blessing to me," Dayal says. "Even if I was leaking runs, the team management saw my intent and backed me for that and played me till the final. And I tried my best in every game.
"He [Hardik] is very calm and confident, and he knows what to do at what point of the game. He is a bowler's captain. If you have confidence in yourself, he lets you take your own decisions. That further boosts the confidence of a bowler. I would say he is the best captain I have played under."
Dayal was not a completely unknown entity when he was among the many uncapped players in the IPL mega auction this year. He had collected 14 wickets in seven games of the Vijay Hazare Trophy in 2021-22 at an economy rate of just 3.77, the best in the team. He had already made a name for himself after his first-class debut season in 2018-19 which saw him bag as many as 30 wickets at an impressive average of 24.70 in the Ranji Trophy.
As a left-arm quick, a new-ball bowler who could bowl around 135-140 kph, and possessing variations like the knuckleball and the yorker, Dayal was fast-tracked into the India squad as a net bowler in January-February this year for the home series against West Indies. Straight from domestic cricket, Dayal was now rubbing shoulders with some of the best in the world.
"Rahul Dravid sir [head coach] spoke to me at times, but Paras Mhambrey [bowling coach] spoke to me the most," Dayal recalls. "He took a lot of interest and spoke to me after every ball I'd bowl in the nets, where to bowl to what kind of batsman, what kind of variations to use etc."
Dayal was new to the dressing room, but he was familiar with most of the bowling tricks already. The outswinger to right-hand batters came naturally to him, he says, and he wanted to work on the one that comes in. He had already picked up the knuckleball from TV and YouTube and honed it further with his UP senior Bhuvneshwar Kumar. With a repertoire of deliveries very few possess at such a young age, he arrived in Ahmedabad to join the India squad.
"I squared up Ishan Kishan once and one other time I beat Mayank Agarwal, piercing the gap between his bat and pad when he tried to defend," Dayal remembers with glee about his highlights in the nets. He says there wasn't a single batter in the nets he did not beat or dismiss, either bowled or caught behind. His big weapon was the inswinger, which was once his weak point.
Dayal, as a result, was already on the wishlist of a few franchises in the IPL auction. Three teams bid for him and his value shot up from his base price of INR 20 lakh to the eventual INR 3.2 crore that Titans paid for him.
Dayal comes from a humble socio-economic background in Prayagraj in UP. Born to an accountant and a housewife, Dayal learned the tricks of the trade from his father, who was a right-arm fast bowler in local cricket tournaments.
"My father has helped a lot in teaching how to shine [the ball] when it gets old, how to maintain it to reverse," Dayal says of his teens when he idolised Zaheer Khan while watching him on TV and indulging in videos of Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis on the internet.
"I would wonder if doing such skillful things would be possible. Then I started watching their videos closely, my father helped a lot, and I started practising. Gradually there was a lot of progress and even now I haven't mastered reverse swing. I'm still learning how to get better at it."
Dayal senior realised the potential in his son and took him to Bishop Johnson School in Prayagraj to be coached by Ghulam Murtaza, father of the UP left-arm spinner Ali Murtaza. Perhaps realizing that learning from only one coach wouldn't be enough, he started taking his son to the city's A division league, to compete against much older players, and to different coaches across the city.
While Dayal was getting rejected in Under-14, 16 and 19 trials, he kept honing his skills and fitness. The door finally opened when he broke into the UP Under-23 squad in 2017-18, and he made his senior-level debut in the same season.
Nearly four years down the line, Dayal is a regular in the UP squad now, an IPL winner, and on the fringes of the India squad. Until he breaks into that squad too, he wants to "keep working hard, keep training, and keep bowling."