It has just been a couple of years since Jasprit Bumrah made his international debut, and a few months since his debut Test, but there’s already a dialogue about how much India will miss him in the one or two Tests he might skip on this England tour. For someone that young into their career, that is a remarkable achievement.
A large part of any conversation about Bumrah revolves around his uncanny action, and yet, to reduce his rapid success to the mechanics of his body is as big an injustice to the complexities of cricket as calling Chris Gayle’s legacy a function of his strength. So much of any sport is mental, and gifts stay on the shelves of your technique unless you know how to use them.
Bumrah’s greatest asset isn’t his action, but his ability to learn from those around him. Every two months since his IPL debut, he has had the incandescent Lasith Malinga as a mentor to watch to study. It took him next to no time to become Mumbai Indians and India’s go-to bowler in limited overs cricket. His ability to mix it up and just the sheer instinct for knowing which one of his variations might work when, marked him out as a troublesome bowler to face. In the death overs, he has followed the path of his guru, and staked his claim as the premier bowler in all situations.
Some career graphs take time to show a steep upward curve, but Bumrah’s has been astonishing in its rate of growth. From being a new ball and death bowler, he has suddenly become a middle-overs option too for India, where he comes in for a short spell and tries to eke out a wicket. Series after series came and went by, but no team could stem Bumrah’s growth or find a way to completely negate him consistently.
The initial reaction to Bumrah was eerily similar to how Malinga was perceived early on in his career; as a one-trick pony who just bowled from an unnatural angle. Before long, stumps and egos were shattering in equal measure and Malinga became the toast of a nation. Bumrah has picked up more than just the yorker from his Sri Lankan friend. The mental strength required for a death-over bowler - that too one with unconventional variations - to succeed consistently, cannot be measured by strike and economy rates.
The same mental strength showed in the Test series against South Africa, where he struggled to tame the red ball in the first Test, but was a beacon of pace, energy and control in the next two. Even when AB de Villiers mounted a brief attack on him, it didn’t seem to perturb Bumrah enough to lose his focus; he continued bowl and think like a Test bowler. That he took less than five days of international Test cricket to make the mental switch is one of the great stories of Indian cricket from this year so far.
As expected, playing all three formats, even for short while, is taxing on the body and is bound to put it under pressure before long. Fast bowling in subcontinental conditions isn’t the most physically pleasing experience, and it becomes doubly difficult when pacers have to turn up in country or franchise colors throughout the year, sometimes without an off-season break. It should come as no surprise that Bumrah’s body needs adequate rest to be able to operate properly, and with the World Cup looming large next year, it will be criminal to put him through more than he can sustain.
India will definitely be missing Bumrah at Edgbaston, if not for anything else then solely for the edge he brings to their bowling attack. Irrespective of his figures or the match situation, Bumrah is very much a reflection of his captain, in that he rarely ever bowls to contain. Every ball is bowled with an attempt to take a wicket, and in conditions where batsmen like to leave a lot of balls, India could’ve done with his incisive and on-the-stumps tendencies. India will only hope he comes back before the second Test, and is still in a physical condition to positively impact India’s chances of winning the elusive Test series in England. Bumrah is a key figure in a crucial series for India.
There are some intangibles in life which separate the men from the boys, and right now, it looks like ‘JazBoom’ has a knack for those. There is already a very evident streak of mental fortitude, there is the obvious skill set and the positive mindset which eggs him on to attack batsmen and force out a wicket. Virat Kohli loves his fast bowlers, and he will be itching to unleash one of his strike bowlers onto the England side.