The bard might have said it brilliantly in another context: There is a tide in the affairs of men. Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. But ask any cricketer the single-most contributing factor to success. He’d inevitably put it down to `breaks’. Grabbing the opportunity would only come next in importance.
Getting the right `break’ at the right time in the form of a selection, or even a fortuitous omission, or a dropped catch or a favourable umpiring decision or anything else which might constitute as a ‘break’ is often the difference between a successful cricketer and an also ran.
Jasprit Bumrah, a veritable unknown, got that coveted `break’ when John Wright, Mumbai Indians’ coach, took it on himself to go and watch a nondescript Syed Mustaq Ali limited overs tournament match involving Gujarat. There he noticed a spark in the youngster which excited him.
Thus Bumrah, a 19 year-old kid with no first class cricket experience whatsoever, was recruited by Mumbai Indians in 2013 in what must rank as one of the most momentous breaks in his career. Once there, at that extremely impressionable age, he got to train with one of the greatest unorthodox fast bowlers of our time, Lasith Malinga. This was the second `break’, where like met like and learnt a thing or two about temperament, bowling to strengths and planning and plotting dismissal of batsmen.
All these came to the fore at the Adelaide Oval on Republic Day when the fast bowler created a stir by cleaning up three Australian batsmen and bowling India to a memorable win. The bowling performance should stand him in good stead when the selectors sit down to pick the Indian team for the ICC World Twenty20 tournament to be held in India in March.
Here it would be vital to point out that Indian cricket’s latest sensation, Bumrah, is not your everyday type of fast bowler. The youngster has a rare `hyper-extension’ shoulder (as different from a hyperextension injury of the rotator cuff), much like former Pakistani fast bowler Shoaib Akthar.
Coupled to this is an unorthodox whippy delivery style where his inward tilted high-arm action (as opposed to Malinga’s round-arm action) with its rapid bowling-arm speed makes the ball seem to be disconcertingly delivered from wide of the crease.
Since the essence of limited overs batting is all about bat speed, batsmen who are momentarily unsighted by the unusual angle at which he delivers the ball are at a decided disadvantage when it comes to stroke making. Another factor is the deceptive pace at which he skids the ball into them. For good measure he can bowl yorkers at will and has worked out a mixture of fast and slower yorkers to further mess with their bat speed.
One cricketer confessed that it was difficult to handle him even in the nets, especially if there was no sight screen. “You don’t expect the ball to emerge from so wide of the crease. That is unusual to start with. He also mixes up his pace very well. When he bowls that ball which skids into you, lapsed reaction time owing to the odd angle of the delivery slays you. Alternately, the slower one has already foxed your bat speed and thereby the timing of the stroke. I’m sure he’ll get sorted out soon at the international level. But because he’s a pretty rare type of bowler that might take a while longer than usual.”
Bumrah also has a bagful of tricks, according to another cricketer. He looks a predominantly in-swing bowler, but can make the ball straighten out or even move slightly away from a right hander. “I haven’t seen him bring the ball back into a left hander though,” he added.
Apparently Malinga advised him to focus on his strengths and emphasised that being unorthodox was actually cool. This has helped Bumrah, for whom yorkers were the norm while bowling in tennis-ball matches during his teen years, to concentrate on other aspects of his game, including training, fitness and strength.
The tall, right arm fast bowler played just two IPL matches in 2013 as it was only a couple of weeks since he was spotted by Wright. This included his debut match against RCB where his haul of three wickets included the prize scalp of Virat Kohli. In an interview after the match he had said that he did not really know his own Mumbai Indians players at that stage and was pretty much overawed by the situation.
After that IPL foray, Bumrah was inducted into Gujarat’s Ranji Trophy team a few months down the line. By the time the next IPL came along, he had already featured in a fair number of first class matches and was therefore a much improved and experienced bowler. That year, he played 11 matches in the IPL and went places, including an India A tour to Australia.
Unfortunately, a knee injury on his landing foot kept him out of the game for close to five months before he recovered sufficiently in time to turn out in four IPL matches for Mumbai Indians during 2015.
The time out of the game got him to think about its various aspects and when he came back stronger, thanks to the work put in with trainers, he was actually a better bowler.
In at least one way Bumrah reminds cricket followers of Colin Croft, the great West Indies fast bowler of yesteryear. He too had an awkward action where he sent down his express deliveries from way wide of the crease. Croft, of course, was much bigger built, besides being meaner and quicker than Bumrah. But the angle of deliveries from both is almost identical.
Bumrah’s strength, at least at this stage of his career, is that he’s not been sorted out. He’s also been smart enough to add greater variety to his repertoire. His bowling coaches too have recognised that he’s different from other bowlers and have wisely not tinkered with his action. Instead they’ve concentrated more on getting the trainers to enhance his fitness levels and allowed him to try out his variations.
Now just 22 years of age, Bumrah has plenty to look forward to. But is he the real thing? That only time will tell. Particularly as Indian selectors and fans have a notoriously short tolerance limit for bowlers’ failure. A batsman can survive in the Indian team despite a series or two of flops. But not bowlers. They have to deliver almost always to remain in the mix.
Indian cricket though will gain if Bumrah is around a bit longer because unlike other recent Indian fast bowlers he is more on the ball and quicker at grasping the right lessons.