It would be tempting to employ the bigger-line theory and say that young Sri Lankan spinner Akila Dananjaya’s six-wicket haul was heavier in comparison to Indian pacer Jasprit Bumrah’s four for 43 in the second one-day international between India and Sri Lanka in Pallekele. But that would be grossly unjust to the evidence of Bumrah's growing stature, not to speak of his awareness of and response to challenges.
Of course, Dananjaya’s magical spell, sandwiched by two century stands during India’s chase of a modest target, was a highlight and would have revived dipping interest in Sri Lankan cricket. But to overlook Bumrah’s bowling on Thursday would be to fall prey to the populist route and ignoring his role in the game.
You did not need to look beyond Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s decision to embrace Test match batsmanship in their determination not to let Dananjaya steal Bumrah’s thunder. The eighth-wicket stand was also a tribute to the young pacer's energy and enthusiasm, enterprise and efficiency. For, he did not deserve to be on the losing side on Thursday.
The team will be delighted with his evolution. For, as they say, the pressure on a bowler grows when batsmen around the world have had the chance of watching him for a while. The second year on the big stage presents a set of different challenges to bowlers. And Thursday offered some evidence of Bumrah being equal to the task.
He had leaked plenty of runs in the ICC Champions Trophy final against Pakistan at the Oval in London and it would need a splendid performance for him to show that he had left those memories behind. There was a hint that he had travelled the recovery road quite well when he finished with two for 22 in the opening game in Dambulla. But that was only a hint.
Bumrah wasn't handed the new ball in the first ODI and was under some pressure when he handled that responsibility in Pallekele. The early signs were not encouraging as the Sri Lankan openers scored quite freely. His backers would have been pleased with the manner in which he scalped opener Niroshan Dickwella. It can go down as an important milestone in his journey.
Bumrah’s ability to respond to the challenges presented by creative batsmen stood out. Watching Dickwella, who struck him for two sixes, move around in his crease, Bumrah delivered the ball well outside leg-stump and cramped the left-hander enough to be able to induce a chip to short mid-wicket where Shikhar Dhawan pulled off a good overhead catch.
Sri Lanka sixth-wicket pair had rebuilt the innings with care and craft and was looking to up the ante in the final overs to try and push the total beyond 250-mark but Bumrah came up with a good riposte. The three scalps that he picked up, including of the two batsmen who had spent a long time in the middle, ensured that Sri Lanka’s hopes of a more competitive score were scuttled.
The 23-year-old’s response to the steady 91-run rebuilding effort by the left-handed Milinda Siriwardana and Chamara Kapugedera was an indication of his growing maturity. The old tenets of line and length did the trick for him, first in creating pressure by not bowling boundary balls and then by making that pressure work in his favour with Siriwardana losing the game of patience.
Bumrah also had a well-set Chamara Kapugedera in trouble with one that whistled past his ear and returned later to clean his wickets up with a yorker. And on Thursday, the Gujarat pacer showed that he would not always depend on the swinging yorker to produce results. His pace allows him to bowl the short-pitched delivery and hustle the batsman into mistakes.
It is his ability to out-think the batsman that is exciting. He has already picked up three four-wicket hauls in 18 ODIs. His penchant to pick up a clutch of wickets, especially in the death augurs well for India. He has a good repertoire, including subtle changes in grip that helps him vary pace and, with a mature head on young shoulders, he can be expected to remain in the forefront for long.
There have been other bowlers whose entry in to the Indian team has caused ripples of excitement either because they have bowled quicker than their predecessors or have shown themselves up as blessed with immense talent. Bumrah’s arrival was noticeable for his unusual, slinging action but with time, he is moving that attention to his undeniable craft.