Around half a decade ago, the term ‘fast bowling’ was something that couldn’t be proudly associated with Indian cricket. Apart from a couple of players like Umesh Yadav and Varun Aaron, there were hardly any bowlers during that period who could intimidate the batsmen with their pace and really be termed as fast bowlers. India did have some really good medium pacers like Kapil Dev, Zaheer Khan and Javagal Srinath in the last decade or two. However, when it came to fast bowlers, the likes of Irfan Pathan and Ashish Nehra always kept fading away, suffering a series of injuries.
Five years down the line, the same term is not alien to Indian cricket anymore. India have a vast pool of fast bowlers that include the likes of Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah, and Mohammed Shami aside from Umesh. Unlike the days of the past, it seems that they are here to stay as India have turned their focus towards fitness and adequate rest for the bowlers. And with the influx of more young and talented fast bowlers like Mohammed Siraj and Basil Thampi into the frame, the numbers are just increasing by the day.
The latest addition to that ever increasing list of talented young fast bowlers is 24-year old Vidarbha pacer Rajneesh Gurbani. With a tally of 31 wickets from five matches, Gurbani has been the main reason behind Vidarbha’s fairytale journey to their maiden Ranji Trophy final in 60 years. It was again his spell of 7/68 in the semi-final against Karnataka that helped Vidarbha clinch a thrilling five-run victory over the more fancied opponents.
And now with another scintillating spell of 6/59 in the first innings of the final against Delhi — that also includes a sensational hat-trick, making him only the second bowler to do so in a Ranji final — Gurbani has further drawn the spotlight on himself, taking his wicket tally for the season to 37, the second best of the season behind Kerala’s Jalaj Saxena (44). He is now on a streak of three consecutive five-wicket hauls as well, having claimed the previous two in both innings of the semi-final clash, finishing with career-best match figures of 12/162.
To be honest, labelling Gurbani as a fast bowler is still an exaggeration of his abilities. He is not someone who can notch up regular speeds of over 140 kph. He is more of a medium pacer who can notch up maximum speeds in the range of 130-135 kph. It is his natural ability to swing the ball viciously that has set him apart from the other pacers this season.
The skill set, physique and swinging ability that he has got is pretty similar to that of Bhuvneshwar during his early years in domestic cricket. Gurbani likes to bowl in a particular channel, on a good length and has the rare natural ability to swing the ball both ways—just like Bhuvneshwar. He is also thin and wiry, and works on his angles while bowling, which are again traits similar to that of the Indian limited-overs spearhead.
His wicket taking ability has been unmatched without compromising on his disciplined line, length and economy. Gurbani has claimed his wickets this season at a scintillating average of 15.56 at a measly economy rate of 2.85 and a strike rate of 32.7, which is by far the best among bowlers this season.
It is true that he is far off from being a full-fledged fast bowler yet. However, if he starts working on his fitness and begins weight-training like Bhuvneshwar did in order to gain pace, he can turn out to be a real deal for Indian cricket in the coming years. Moreover, his ability to make the old ball talk is also something to be excited about. It is an added advantage for him as not many bowlers of his age are able to master the art of reverse swing.
A lot of fast bowlers are still unsettled in the Indian squad at the moment. Senior Vidarbha teammate Umesh is the front-runner in that list while Siraj is another name who hasn’t made his limited opportunities count. And if Gurbani gains a little bit of pace without sacrificing his natural swinging abilities in the next one or two years, he can leave a lot of present Indian bowlers behind in the race.
Moreover, he has showed his wicket-taking prowess in T20s during the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy in 2015/16 as well. Statistics of 11 wickets in nine T20s, though at an economy of 8.36 but at an average of 22.81 and fabulous strike rate of 16.3, suggest his consistent wicket-taking ability in the shorter formats as well.
With the IPL auction coming up next month, Gurbani’s name will be one to watch out for considering his T20 statistics and recent Ranji Trophy exploits. If he gets a chance to prove his mettle with any of the IPL franchises, his career will be fast-tracked further and will gain a lot of valuable experience.
For now, he is enjoying every bit of his dream run in this Ranji season. His aim over the next three days would be to continue doing what he has done throughout this season, ending it on a high with another fabulous bowling performance in the third innings that could probably empower his team to bring an end to the quest for their maiden Ranji title.