Gujarat's dream of winning Ranji Trophy threatened to come to a screeching halt. Anxiety had crept in the dressing room, and not only the junior players, even the support staff was worried.
It was the fourth day of the 2016-17 Ranji Trophy semi-final between Gujarat and Jharkhand. Gujarat's Manprit Juneja and Hardik Patel were the overnight batsmen with the score reading 100/4 after their team had conceded a slender 18-run lead. Understandably, Jharkhand fancied their chances.
It was a precarious position for Parthiv Patel's team, who had made its way to the semi-final largely on back of big first-innings leads and managed only two outright wins. By contrast, Jharkhand had five. What made it worse was that Rush Kalaria, Gujarat's third seamer, had broken down due to a shoulder injury and was not available to bowl.
Jasprit Bumrah and RP Singh had the responsibility to defend 235.
"We were down by 18 runs in first innings. We just scored 230 (252) in second innings and they needed to chase hardly 250 (235). Some players did feel, 'Ab kya hoga?' (What will happen now?)" Gujarat coach Hitesh Majumdar tells Firstpost.
A disciplined first spell of 5-5-1-0 from Singh set the tone for Gujarat. But they still needed the 'killer instinct' Gujarat chief coach Vijay Patel so often talked about.
"He (Bumrah) has that killer instinct. If a batsman hits a pacer for runs, they need to have the ability to bounce back. He comes off as a quiet person, but he knows how to put the pressure back on the batsman. Somewhere, we knew, he will do it. Only he could have done it that day," Patel states .
Singh, being the 'bowling captain' of the team, had given the bowlers a pep talk.
"I told them that this is the right time to show your calibre and be a hero. People often talk about the bowler who has taken 50 wickets (in the season) but the one who has the potential to turn the match around from difficult situations is the real performer. This is a situation to change the match," the former Uttar Pradesh pacer told his colleagues.
Patel had the belief. Singh gave the final push, and true to Gujarat's belief, Bumrah delivered in a way that only he can.
"He bowled with lot of heart in Nagpur and we won that match easily. Uska ek spell jab aya tab usne khatam kar diya (He finished the match in one spell)," says Majumdar.
Jharkhand were skittled for 111 and Bumrah's six-wicket haul powered Gujarat to their first final since 1950-51.
This was the Bumrah Gujarat had gotten used to. Their go-to man in all situations regardless of the formats and the conditions — be it the paata (flat) Ahmedabad wickets or a lively Hubli track or the Ranji Trophy knockouts. To the rest of the world, he was still a limited-overs specialist, but Gujarat had already seen the potential and knew where he belonged.
As luck would have it, Bumrah missed the final because of national commitments and Gujarat clinched their maiden Ranji Trophy without their talisman bowler. But it wouldn't have been possible if not for his efforts in the preceding matches.
Bumrah was making waves in Gujarat cricket before John Wright gave him the break in the Indian Premier League (IPL), thanks to his slingy action and the pace he generated. Gujarat coaches followed his progress closely since there was a scarcity of pacers in the team. There were obvious questions about his action but nobody ever thought of changing it.
"When he played U-19 cricket, he immediately impressed with his pace. And especially for U-19 cricket, his pace was too difficult to handle. Initially we were concerned about his action. But then we thought that there is no need to change it. Let him be. Because his action was such that you will have to remodel his entire action if you want to change anything. So it was not at all advisable. We let him grow," says Patel.
The 24-year-old, too, was never keen on changing his action. Some minor adjustments were made during his time at the MRF Pace Foundation but the chief coach M Senthilnathan understood very early what worked for the Gujarat pacer.
"Bumrah came to pace foundation in 2011. He came for the pace foundation selections. We had selected him. He had the speed, but his action is not what everybody would like to have. He has a unique action and one thing was very clear in his mind is that he always wanted to stick to it. We felt he is a unique person and he has all the abilities to be a good bowler. Also, he had pretty good control with that action, so we decided not to change it. If we had changed it, Bumrah wouldn't have been the asset that he is today," says Senthilnathan.
The story goes that Bumrah started his cricket at home. During afternoons, his challenge was to hit the bottom of the imaginary stumps (wall, in this case) — you know where he perfected those famous yorkers — so that his mom doesn't wake up because of the sound. But starting at home also brought some limitations that would shape the cricketer that he would eventually become.
"I asked Jassi why is his action is like this and he told me, 'I used to play in our flat. There was only that much room, it was only 6 feet wide so I had to run and bowl straight.' So that's why his run-up was so short and he was only bowling with shoulders. He ended up doing so the same with leather ball," informs Majumdar.
Fearing that extra workload this early might hamper him, Gujarat decided to introduce Bumrah to the next stage gradually. He was kept in the mix as far as first-class cricket was concerned but he started his domestic journey at the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy. Coincidentally, Wright was scouting for Mumbai Indians during the same time and Bumrah's unorthodox action caught his attention. Within a couple of months, Bumrah debuted for Mumbai and claimed the bragging rights by making Virat Kohli his first victim.
Bumrah, like many other Indian players of this generation, is a product of the Indian Premier League (IPL). His experience during those two months helped him push his case for a first-class debut too.
"After seeing him in T20s and IPL, we believed in him. (We thought) if international players can't predict his action, line and length, Ranji Trophy players couldn't do it either. Surely, he was going to get wickets and he did that in his first match," Majumdar explains.
Bumrah made his first-class debut on a 'green' Nagpur wicket. The Gujarat camp was surprised that Vidarbha opted to bat, and the bowlers showed why as the home side was bowled out for 85. Bumrah took four in the first dig and three in the next as Gujarat won by an innings and 1 run.
The run continued throughout the season as Bumrah finished as Gujarat's highest wicket-taker with 38 victims and at an average of 21.15. The performance didn't surprise anyone in the Gujarat dressing room. In fact, Patel explains how it was a calculated move to introduce him and emphasises on the importance of IPL in his early career.
"We knew that he had that odd action and a sharp inswinger. And before someone could understand his action, they were beaten by pace. The main advantage he had was that he played IPL cricket with a lot of senior international cricketers at a very raw age. He rubbed shoulders with international pacers at the age of 20. So I think that was the best advantage he had. So before playing for India, he got a lot of inputs from higher level cricket," remarks the chief coach.
Bumrah's growth further rocketed when Gujarat roped in the services of Singh as a professional in the 2015 season. It was becoming increasingly difficult for Parthiv Patel, the only Test player in the squad, to nurture the team alone. Singh's presence took some pressure off the captain and worked wonders for the pacers.
"We were also playing RP Singh as our professional so that was also an advantage. He had played for India and he was a great bowler. Bumrah got a lot of tips from RP also. He became more mentally strong, aware of his game very early," says Patel.
Apart from the inswinger which was his stock delivery, Bumrah also used pace to his advantage by bouncing the batsmen out since his early days. Patel narrates a tale from an U-19 match, where he surprised Karnataka by going around the wicket and turned the match on its head with a spell. The bouncer strategy worked in Ranji Trophy as well, as batsmen were simply not used to facing a bowler who clocked 140 kmph regularly.
Singh, however, sensed that the overuse of plan could harm Bumrah in the long run. He also felt that Bumrah needed to add an outswinger to his repertoire or a ball that straightens after pitching. He also explained him the joy a bowler gets by setting up a batsman before dismissing him.
"Earlier, when he used to play with us, he got a lot of wickets with the bouncer. But maine usse kaha ki yaha thik hai but international main bouncer se jyada out nahi hoga (But, I told him the bouncer would fetch you wickets here consistently but not in international cricket). Focussing on the lengths is very important. If you set up a batsman, the confidence starts building automatically," Singh, who announced his international retirement recently, reveals.
Singh helped Bumrah with his wrist position while he was developing the delivery that straightens after pitching against right-handers.
When asked about that process, he says, "I told him you cannot survive on the inswinger alone. Either you will have to learn to bowl the outswinger, or the ball that holds its line. He started working on those deliveries by changing his wrist positions then. But he wasn't comfortable doing that. There is a tendency to keep on working on the ball, inswinger in this case, that has given you success."
"But I explained him over a lot of conversations that you'll have to figure out this thing if you want to play higher level of cricket. Developing that variation is very important. To bowl outswing with that action was very difficult but that particular ball can be set up. Then he started coming closer to the stumps and began bowling the outswinger. Using the crease became as much important. Gradually, the ball that swung in also started maintaining its line after pitching and his performance doubled."
The efforts put in with Singh were visible in the Southampton Test when Bumrah made Keaton Jennings look like a club cricketer. He bowled three outswingers to the southpaw before catching him unawares and bowling the ball that held its line after pitching. So confident was Bumrah that he begun his celebrations as soon as Jennings was pinged in front.
Former England pacer Steve Harmison was effusive in Bumrah's praise in the post-lunch show on Day 1 of the fourth Test, "That's Jimmy Andersonesque. That wrist position is Jimmy Andersonesque. A lot of people would say that is Jennings' fault but that set up was absolutely perfect from Jasprit Bumrah," Harmison had said.
Even Dale Steyn was impressed and in an interaction with BCCI.tv said, "He's got incredible skill. We saw him get Keaton Jennings out... you know a couple of balls away and without playing a shot (he got him out) the ball moved back in. He's young and he's got skill and pace. What more can you ask for?"
Bumrah's selection in Test squad for South Africa earlier this year was termed a left-field choice. Largely, because he played his last first-class match in January 2017 — that Jharkhand semi-final. The general perception was that he had been awarded for his consistency in limited-overs games. However, chief selector MSK Prasad did mention the role of Bumrah's 2016-17 Ranji Trophy performances in his maiden Test call-up.
His selection in the Test squad could still be foreseen but the decision to select him in the first Test was startling. Bumrah, though, hardly took any time to settle in the role, probably because of the preparations he puts in before every overseas tour.
“Whenever I go to a new country, I always plan in advance. Before visiting the country, I have a look at a few videos. What works over there. What the home team does over there,” Bumrah told Mumbai Indians in an interview.
Things fell in place after his South Africa call-up. The Ranji season was still going on so he had quality batsmen in his state teammates to practice the lengths he wanted to bowl in the Rainbow Nation. It didn't matter whether Gujarat were going to play on slow and low pitches the next week, the Gujarat batsmen were happy to play Bumrah. The excitement was palpable as Bumrah was on the verge of becoming the first Gujarat player to debut for India in Tests after Parthiv.
Regardless of the nature of the pitch, Bumrah would turn up for the Ranji nets on every alternate day and bowl 'shortish lengths'. His efforts and preparations paid rich dividends as Bumrah ended his debut tour as India's second highest wicket-taker with 14 wickets — one short of Mohammed Shami's effort.
He followed the similar process ahead of the England tour, albeit with a minor tweak — he wanted 'grassy wickets' to prepare for the English batsmen.
Bumrah's UK tour was cut short after he suffered an injury in the second T20I against Ireland. But a few days after returning to India, he called up Majumdar and told him, "Give me one batsman and a grassy wicket. I will do everything else."
The accuracy he developed during the practice at Ahmedabad's Gujarat College was noticeable in the way Bumrah bowled in the Trent Bridge Test. He started hitting the right lengths immediately and finished the match with seven wickets.
The extensive preparations he puts in before every tour paved the way for his success but there is an innate advantage which Bumrah has when he bowls — his non-bowling arm. All batsmen watch the downward journey of the non-bowling arm before getting ready for the delivery. In his case that doesn't happen so evidently.
"It's about one hand going down and the other hand actually starting the upward zone. It happens in Bumrah's case too, it has to happen because that's the only way bio mechanics are going to work. But his non bowling arm never really goes that high. His bowling arm is also not where generally the regular bowlers have. So the batsmen actually fail to take the cue, where the downward journey has began because it's obviously beginning a lot later than say in the case of James Anderson. Because the hand has not really gone up, and if it's not gone up it's not going to come down. It won't start the downward journey very early. From a batsman's perspective, you simply don't get the cues. So batsmen are slightly late to playing him because they don't know what to look for," says former India cricketer-turned-commentator Aakash Chopra.
This advantage will vanish slowly as batsmen play against him for the second time but his efficiency won't. The six Tests he has played are enough to answer why.
After an impressive debut tour in South Africa, Bumrah bagged 14 wickets in England despite playing only three Tests. Ishant Sharma and Shami featured in all the matches and picked up 18 and 16 wickets respectively.
Since making his limited-overs debut in 2016, Bumrah has made rapid strides in both the formats and is now one of the top bowlers in world cricket. However, even during the phase of his early success as a short-format bowler, he continued to nurse the dream he had since he began bowling to the wall at his home. And he would often talk to Patel about it. "Sir Test toh khelneka hai (I want to play Tests). Test cricket is the main cricket."
And here he is.
From being labelled as a limited-overs specialist to leading the Test pace attack within two series, Bumrah has come a long way. He has already leapfrogged Mohammed Shami in the pecking order and takes the new ball. He is also the bowler Kohli turns to whenever the opposition stitches a frustrating partnership. It won't be wrong to say that he has become the leader of the attack.
He is not a limited-overs specialist to the rest of the world anymore. He is an all-format bowler, and this is the Jasprit Bumrah India are getting used to.