Champions Trophy 2017: Jasprit Bumrah’s death bowling makes him Virat Kohli’s go-to man
Jasprit Bumrah will be a key member for India in their defence of the Champions Trophy and would be more than a handful in pacer-friendly conditions in England.
Flashback to a Super Eight match in the 2007 World Cup between South Africa and Sri Lanka at the Providence Stadium in Guyana: Batting first, Sri Lanka had scored a below-average 209. In reply, Graeme Smith, Herschelle Gibbs and Jacques Kallis had the Proteas coasting. It was the 45th over of the match and South Africa were on the verge of victory, needing four runs to win off 32 balls. Then what happened was beyond words to capture. A certain pacer with tousled-hair engineered the most unthinkable of turnarounds.
Four balls consumed four South African batsmen. Shaun Pollock, Andrew Hall, Kallis himself, who was batting 14 runs shy of a hundred, and Makhaya Ntini were laid to waste one after another, as clever changes of pace and length, and the ability to bowl the yorker at will brought rich rewards for Sri Lanka. The bowler? Lasith Malinga. A player who established himself as the most menacing death bowler around. South Africa got home by the skin of their teeth in the end, but not before a mighty scare.
The days of Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis were long over and Shoaib Akhtar was on the last legs of his career. The Australian speedsters, Glenn McGrath and Brett Lee were masters at their trade, but Malinga’s bowling at the death was something special.
For nearly a decade, there was no one to challenge the Sri Lankan slinger. There was absolutely nobody who could get him away consistently.
Until 2016, when during a tour Down Under, India unveiled a 23-year-old pacer, who at first glance looked to be a carbon copy of Malinga, and was hailed as India’s very own death-over specialist and their answer to the mighty weapon in Sri Lanka’s arsenal.
He did not have a ‘remember the name’ moment as Carlos Brathwaite did in the World T20 final a few months later, but did enough in the limited-overs series against Australia to tell you that he was going to be a vital cog in the wheel for India in 50 and 20-over cricket for a long time to come, a name fit to be remembered in its own right. The bowler? Jasprit Bumrah. A player who gave every indication of being a serious talent.
Bumrah gave a good account of himself in the T20 series at home against Sri Lanka and at the Asia Cup. He was in his element in the big-ticket clash against Pakistan at Dhaka, claiming the wicket of Sharjeel Khan, while giving away a meagre eight runs from his three overs, two of which were maidens. The World T20 was ordinary by the standards he had already started to set. In the World T20 semi-final in Mumbai, he gave India a rollicking start with the ball when he rattled the stumps of the deadly Chris Gayle.
That the West Indies got themselves back on track and got the better of India in that match is another matter, but expectations on Bumrah was steadily rising.
The similarities with Malinga were obvious. The quirky, slinging action, the clever variations and changes of pace and length, the ability to call upon the yorker at will make both bowlers of the same species. And both are mighty effective for their sides. And as providence would have it, both have been indispensable for the Mumbai Indians franchise that has just won the prestigious Indian Premier League (IPL) crown for a record third time.
In ODIs, Bumrah has had a decent record. He was fantastic in the Zimbabwe series last year claiming four-fors twice in three matches, while giving away next to nothing. He bowled with a lot of parsimony in the series against New Zealand too, though went for some runs in the one-dayers against England.
Bumrah’s breakout moment, however, came in the T20 series that followed the ODIs against England earlier this year. India had been thoroughly beaten in the first T20 of the three-match series in Kanpur, and in the second match they were looking done for when Bumrah came in to bowl the last over. The veteran Ashish Nehra had leaked 16 runs in the over before, including a six and a four off his last three balls. With eight runs needed off six balls, the scales were well and truly titled in the visitors’ favour, especially with a well-set and in-form Joe Root at the crease and Jos Buttler for company.
The first ball from Bumrah was back of a length, which skidded on after pitching and beat Root’s attempted pull, hitting him on the thigh. The umpire ruled 'out', even though replays showed the batsman had got an edge. A wicket nevertheless.
Moeen Ali came in and got a slower delivery straightaway. All that Ali could manage was a bottom edge for a single.
Buttler swung and missed an off-cutter next as the equation started to turn a bit stiff for England.
The fourth ball produced another wicket as Bumrah got one to skid underneath Buttler’s bat to have him clean bowled. Seven runs needed of two balls and in came Chris Jordan.
The fifth ball was an off-cutter again and Jordan was early into the shot and missed. England needed six off the last ball. Could Moeen Ali do a Javed Miandad and win it with a six? Bumrah put paid to any such eventuality as the last delivery was a wide full toss moving further away that beat Ali’s bat swing.
Bumrah opened his bag of tricks and variations and came up with a show of world class death bowling to help India wriggle out of a tough position and kept Virat Kohli and Co alive in the series.
“It's always difficult bowling in the death… the wicket was difficult. To clear the back of a length deliveries and slower balls out of the ground was difficult… I try to stick to my basics. The ball was getting wet, so bowling yorkers was difficult. Hence, I bowled back of a length and on the stumps,” Bumrah said after the match and thanked Kohli for showing the faith in him.
Comparisons with Malinga were inevitable and Nehra noted, “Bumrah is an excellent bowler and his speciality is bowling at death. Just like Malinga – he was an asset with the old ball.”
“In the last couple of years, Bumrah has proved to be a thinking bowler and applies his mind in every delivery,” said the legendary Sunil Gavaskar following Bumrah's match-winning effort.
India won the last match of the series in Bengaluru and with it the series, and Bumrah came up with fine performance there too, claiming 3/14 in 2.3 overs.
Another high point in Bumrah’s fledgling career came during the recently-concluded IPL, when The Mumbai Indians pacer defended 11 runs in a super over against Gujarat Lions’ Brendon McCullum and Aaron Finch – two of the biggest hitters in the game. Bumrah had a successful campaign in IPL 2017, with 20 wickets – only six behind table-topper and his India team mate Bhuvneshwar Kumar – and went at a perfectly acceptable economy of 7.35 over a course of 16 matches. The way he stifled Kolkata Knight Riders in Qualifier 2 in Bengaluru, going for a mere seven runs in his three overs, while taking three wickets, spoke volumes of his abilities.
Bumrah’s biggest asset is that he can choke an opposition at crunch times along with getting you wickets with his variations. The fact that he is a specialist at death bowling is beyond question, but, as former Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni once pointed out, Bumrah is quite good with the new ball too.
Also, it has been rare for an Indian pacer to have such command over the yorker. Akram and Younis had used the delivery to devastating effect and so has Malinga, but often Indian bowlers like Zaheer Khan had possessed potent yorkers, but had not used it on a consistent basis. It is as inexplicable as Indian pacers, with alarming regularity, starting off bowling at 145kmph, but ending up bowling at 135kmph midway through their careers. Bumrah looks good to break this trend, at least as far as bowling in the block hole is concerned.
The young pacer has a fine first class record, having taken 89 wickets in 26 matches at a healthy average of 25.33 and had helped Gujarat defend a modest 234 against Jharkhand in the Ranji Trophy semi-final earlier in the year, with a six-for. Bumrah is long overdue a Test cap, but let’s leave that discussion for another day.
Bumrah will be a key member for India in their defence of the Champions Trophy and would be more than a handful for opposition batsmen in pacer-friendly conditions in England.
However, there is a flip side to his bowling too, an Achilles' heel of sorts. That is his tendency of overstepping, which had come to hurt him on occasions and that is something he would want to out of his system as fast as possible.
It is not without reason though that Cricket Australia had named him in their ODI Team of the Year and in every measure, he can be Kohli’s go-to man in England.
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