Call him a freak if you like, but at present, he is one of the best fast bowlers around. It has been an amazing three years for young Jasprit Bumrah, ever since he made his T20 international debut for India in January 2016, transforming from a primarily one-dimensional fast bowler to someone who is now feared in all corners of the cricketing world, for the skills he possesses. When he is on song, he can win matches on his own.
In fact, when he made his Indian Premier League (IPL) debut in 2013, he was, comparatively, quite ordinary. Trotting in like a pony warming up for a dressage event, almost pigeon-toed, he would bowl inswingers, often mixing them up with yorkers and some crafty, almost devious slower ones.
The Bumrah of 2019 is different; he is now a wily customer.
Master of the bouncy inswingers that actually stand up and talk, he can, despite his chest-on action, now bowl the late outswinger too. Add to that repertoire a leg-cutter, a lethal bouncer, and the yorker – an express one and another deceptive, slower one that dips late in its flight – and you have a complete fast bowling package.
If I may be permitted the use of software terminology to describe him, for me, the latest version of Jasprit Bumrah is Bumrah 3.0. He has kept upgrading his skills and his knowledge of the game almost on a daily basis. Like Michelangelo — whose Statue of David is one of the most renowned works of the Renaissance — he has kept chipping away at his weak points and has sculpted himself into the world-class talent that he is today.
Statistically, Bumrah has been phenomenal in all the three formats of the game. Relatively new in the traditional version, he has picked 55 scalps in a dozen Tests @20.63. In 58 ODIs, he has 104 wickets @21.88 and in 42 T20 internationals, he has 51 wickets @20.17.
Figures alone, however, do not tell the story of the young fast bowler’s growth over the last five years or so, nor does his rise in ICC Test ranking over the last year-and-a-half. Realising the fact that a quick bowler at the international level needs to be resilient and physically strong, he has worked relentlessly on these aspects and has therefore reaped benefits. He keeps the company of great bowlers and mentors — Lasith Malinga is just one of them – and has gained a lot from their knowledge and experience. A dedicated student of the art of fast bowling, he confesses to have also learnt a great deal from other greats like Wasim Akram, Mitchell Johnson and Brett Lee. I am sure, Bharat Arun, the Team India bowling coach contributes to his progress too.
Bumrah’s mental approach to the game is simple: staying in the present moment. He says that external factors like the required run-rate, the batsman’s score, the opposition’s score etc. hardly bother him as he delivers each ball, narrow focusing on his plan for that delivery. Each delivery for him is a special ‘mission’ and there are six of those ‘missions’ in every over – unless, of course, he oversteps as he is prone to sometimes. This is easier said than done, but he seems to have mastered the art of blanking out his mind and centering his attention on the next delivery. Therefore, not surprisingly, he is known as ‘king’ of the death overs.
Bumrah, the original version, was on view during the IPL season of 2013. Naïve and inexperienced, he displayed quite a few rough edges then. That is mainly why the coaches, who persisted with him at that time, seeing in him a rough diamond that could one day be polished into world-class talent, need to be complimented. Bumrah 2.0 happened when he was picked to play for India in white ball cricket, in 2016. The young dilettante had by then gained experience and learned to bowl the delivery that straightened up, cleverly mixing it up with his big inswingers.
In the recently concluded Test series in the Caribbean Isles, Bumrah 3.0 bowled some beautiful outswingers to pick a bagful of scalps. Batsmen, who had expected him to bowl his patented inswingers and the oddball that shot through straight, were bamboozled. He was a step ahead of the video-analysts too!
As it is, batsmen have found it difficult to pick his line and length, given his unusual stiff-armed action and his late release of the ball. The hyper extension of his bowling arm, at the point of delivery, makes it all the more difficult to pick him. What has added to their burdens now is the controlled outswinger that he bowls to right-handed batsmen with the new ball. His deliveries swing late because of the backspin that he imparts as he releases the ball, facilitated by an ultra-flexible wrist. Therefore, besides judging line and length in the 0.2 seconds available to them, batsmen now have to ‘decide’ whether the ball will dip in or swing away.
When a fast bowler, with a chest-on action, gets the ball to yank away from the right-handed batsman after angling it into him, he is at his most dangerous. England’s Ben Stokes has that ability. Now Bumrah can do it with almost equal facility. How is it done? The front arm, in the delivery stride, points towards leg-stump. The bowling arm, in its ascent, begins from behind the bowler's back. It rises, slightly round arm and away from the vertical, with the wrist facing first slip. The ball, delivered with a flick of the wrist to impart back-spin, the bowling arm then brushes past the left hip to finish and follow through. It is the perfect curve that the bowling arm makes – start to end – that controls the movement of the ball. Again, it isn’t easy and speaks volumes about how much thought and effort Bumrah puts into his bowling.
The South Africans, the Bangladeshis, the men from the Caribbean Isles, the Zimbabweans and the Australians shall be playing in India, in various formats of the game, over the next six months or so. They will be wary of the tricks up the star Indian fast bowler’s sleeve. He, on his part, will also be preparing for them. I won’t be surprised if I see the launch of Bumrah 3.1 as the Proteas take guard a few days from now.
The author is a caricaturist and sportswriter. A former fast bowler, coach and sports administrator, he believes in calling a spade a spade