It was a March morning when I made my way to a cold seat at the Holkar Stadium in Indore, its weathered surface providing no comfort. The sun was out but its warmth felt distant. There was no tea or coffee in the sight either, so my only solace had to be the final of the Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 tournament.
Gujarat, a team with no trophies to its name then, was looking to break the duck against Punjab. I had watched many games over the course of the week but my responsibilities somehow ensured that I missed out on Parthiv Patel’s young bunch. To everyone’s surprise, they were in the final. However, Punjab arrived into the contest with the favourite tag firmly placed on it.
It took only the first half-hour to shatter the illusion. Then just 19, Jasprit Bumrah rattled the Punjab batsmen as much with his unusual action as he did with his special ability to get the ball to lift quickly off the surface. Bumrah’s 4-1-14-3 earned him the man-of-the-match prize and Gujarat its first-ever domestic title. But more importantly, the display put the pacer under the spotlight.
Only days ago, he had been scouted by Mumbai Indians and had impressed then coach John Wright. Bumrah started his IPL career four days after that final in Indore, dismissing Virat Kohli on debut. Plenty has gone right for him since.
Bumrah’s action obviously makes him stand out, but it is the range of delivery points which makes him most threatening. This allows Bumrah to have multiple arrows in his quiver, although it is the yorker that has now become his renowned weapon. Certainly on Australian wickets, the youngster will find much to his liking.
It was two years ago in Australia, after all, that the seamer made his belated arrival into international cricket. Bumrah starred in the final ODI of the series that India lost 1-4, thereafter sparking a turnaround in form in the T20s which followed. Many had seen in him a cricketer mature beyond his years. He proved them right as India clean swept the shortest format against an Australia side playing at home.
Dhoni called him the find of the tour. Since then, the youngster has barely put a step wrong – even his tendency to overstep, which hurt India in the Champions Trophy final last year, seems to have been weeded out. In fact, one finds a bowler now who is one of the most threatening forces in world cricket.
Bumrah’s breakthrough in limited-overs cricket, though, was used as an argument against his effectiveness in the longer format. For some reason, it was assumed that he could not translate his success with the white ball to the red. Those doubts were misplaced.
They did not take into account that Bumrah’s default mindset is to look for wickets. Not for him to merely restrict a batsman. As Virat Kohli said recently, he has been lucky to have a bowler like Bumrah who can think on his feet and stay ahead of the game.
28 wickets from the first six Tests of his career represents an impressive return, if not wholly surprising. It would not be a shock either if Bumrah returns from Australia with his reputation enhanced. In theory, the pace and bounce off the wickets should help him. However, he is wise to the possibility that not all challenges will be known to him in advance.
"There is always bounce there but Australia nowadays is known for high-scoring games well. I am not focusing too much ahead, I am focusing on whatever the next match I play. That's always been my philosophy. When I reach Australia, I will assess the wickets. Because sometimes going there with pre-conceived notions and then it doesn't happen, so you are in no space. I'll go there, see the conditions and plan according to that," said Bumrah ahead of travelling to Australia.
They say it’s important to prepare well but Bumrah is a canny bowler who is aware of the dangers of preparing too much. The 24-year-old is defined by his ability to quickly adapt to situations. Bumrah has experienced enough match situations and conditions to produce similar results everywhere. Consistency has not eluded him till now.
But Test cricket in Australia will be a serious hurdle. There’s no reason to believe Bumrah will fail, but the bowler will be wary of unforeseen obstacles after navigating a near-smooth pathway in the last two years. If nothing more, we can be sure that Bumrah will react well and quickly, like he has always done. And having a fast bowler who can be decisive is a thing of luxury at India’s disposal. Bumrah’s unconventional action is no longer his defining attribute.
Priyansh is an independent writer in New Delhi. He tweets @GarrulousBoy.