Discussions about Indian cricket’s lineage are often centred around wristy batsmen and wily spinners. It is as recurrent as watermelon slices sold on Indian streets during summer.
But India does have a tradition of fast bowling. It may be muted when compared to the riches in batting and the slow art of turn but there were purveyors who dispensed the red cherry at high velocity. When the weather-beaten pages of history are flipped, there are stirring references to the fast-men.
Former England captain Walter Hammond said this about Amar Singh, who bowled in India’s inaugural Test at Lord’s in 1932: “He is as dangerous an opening bowler as I have ever seen, coming off the pitch like the crack of doom”. Interestingly, Amar Singh was partnered by the equally fiery Mohammad Nissar.
As the years rolled by, the conveyor belt threw up a varied range. Some trundled in with a gentle rhythm, others bowled medium-pace and a few were express-quick. Kapil Dev, Javagal Srinath and Zaheer Khan lit up the legacy that Amar Singh and Nissar first shaped.
And in this digital age of Twitter-brevity, in walks Jasprit Bumrah with his lopsided grin and whirring arms that hypnotise willow-wielders. A series of rapid steps explodes into the shortest of sprints and then Bumrah leaps, his back arches in an exaggerated fashion and as the non-bowling arm leads the way, the right hand is a blur.
At the other end, a nervous batsman tries to counter whatever Bumrah can come up with, be it a delivery hovering temptingly around the off-stump, a yorker threatening toes and timber, a bouncer or even a slower-ball. It isn’t easy squaring up to Bumrah’s thunder-bolts and none is spared, even his team-mates at nets. Virat Kohli vouched for this trait and some paid a price too like Vijay Shankar did with a fractured toe while Bumrah’s preamble remains constant: “If I practise better, I bowl better.”
And in this digital age of Twitter-brevity, in walks Jasprit Bumrah with his lopsided grin and whirring arms that hypnotise willow-wielders. – getty images
Bumrah’s method isn’t part of the conventional grid. The long looping run gaining pace before it culminates in the leap and delivery, the usual attribute of fast bowlers, has been drastically abridged in his case. He could be inflicting bio-mechanical stress upon his torso while generating all that pace from his shoulder but so far it has worked wonderfully well for him and India reaped the rewards.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way because unconventional merchants of lightning were supposed to be found only in Sri Lanka. We still have Lasith Malinga, who with his slinging action is still raging against the light in his last World Cup. It is sheer serendipity that both Malinga and Bumrah turn out for Mumbai Indians in the Indian Premier League. Obviously notes have been exchanged and surely the baton has been passed as Bumrah’s skills, especially in the death overs, has won universal acclaim.
Through this World Cup, stars ranging from Chris Gayle to Aaron Finch have referred to Bumrah as the number one bowler. The words were uttered with respect and while his peers treat him with awe, the man in the vortex of attention, takes all this lightly. Wickets are taken, scoring-rate is slowed down but there are no exaggerated mannerisms. He is never rushed on the turf except while scampering in the deep to stop a four.
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While India sealed its semifinal spot, Bumrah deserves credit too. His 14 wickets at an astounding economy rate of 4.61 along with a similar yield from Mohammed Shami, has helped Kohli’s men keep a lid on the opposition despite the odd expensive affair involving England.
Against Bangladesh when its tail-enders targeted a miracle, Bumrah fired his yorkers and India secured its much needed triumph and qualified for the last-four. When the great Waqar Younis did duty for Pakistan, in the neighbouring land there was always this yearning for an equivalent hero, someone who could scatter stumps with regularity. Zaheer did his bit but in Bumrah, India has unearthed the real deal. Shami isn’t far too behind either.
It isn’t as though Bumrah had an easy World Cup. In the early games, he bowled a touch short and was vulnerable to the cut and pull. But as the campaign warmed, his radar was back in the zone. As India gears up for its last set of contests in the World Cup, Bumrah will have to do what he does best, pushing the speed-gun and gifting trepidation to the opposition.