Fast but Never Furious: The Quiet Genius of Jasprit Bumrah

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Fast but Never Furious: The Quiet Genius of Jasprit Bumrah

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

Jasprit Bumrah canters in off a short run-up, unlike most tall, burly, menacing pacers. With an unusual action, he shoots off 145-kmph scorchers and smiles as they whizz past the batsman’s flailing willow. And just like that, Bumrah is back on his bowling mark. Even on the most innocuous pitches, he is successful in extracting something. Bumrah comes running off a short run-up. Bumrah makes things happen. Bumrah smiles.

No abuse, no staring, no send-offs.

In Tuesday’s match against Australia, he was given the 46th over, with Australia needing 29 runs from 30 balls, at less than a run-a-ball. With four wickets remaining, it was Australia’s match to lose from there on. Bumrah first castled Nathan Coulter-Nile with a sharp incoming delivery and then nicked off Pat Cummins to change the face of the match. In two deciding overs at the death, he gave away only two runs and bagged two crucial wickets, paving the way to one of India’s most memorable ODI victories.

Springing surprises has become Bumrah’s trademark. Like most things in his career, Bumrah caught the Aussies off-guard on his ODI debut in January, 2016. The youngster landed in Australia for the T20 series but ended up playing the last ODI despite travel fatigue. The two wickets he took in his debut were prophetic. The pacer dismissed Australian skipper Steve Smith off a bouncer and James Faulkner off a yorker; two Bumrah specials that continue to trouble batsmen across the globe.

Since then, he has grown in all three formats, and in just over three years, he has become the leader of India’s bowling attack. Many frowned after Bumrah was included in India’s Test team against South Africa, but within a year, he scalped five-wicket hauls in South Africa, England, and Australia. Almost seamlessly, he has become Virat Kohli’s most sought-after bowler whenever the skipper requires a wicket.

jasprit_bumrah

You’ll never see him losing his cool or crumbling under pressure when a batsman takes him for a couple of boundaries.

Image Credits: Getty Images

Having seen the gentle medium-pacers — and that’s putting it kindly — over the years as an Indian cricket fan, it flares your chest to see someone like Bumrah who hits the 145-kmph mark consistently, and has the ability to crank it over 150 if needed. For all the great batsmen that India has produced, the team was always short of genuine fast bowlers. Kapil Dev was nippy, but not express, and he lost a lot of pace during his twilight years. After Dev, Javagal Srinath had some zip, and he was succeeded by Ashish Nehra and Zaheer Khan. Still, the raw pace that inspires fear in opposition batsmen was never something that India had; it’s just not how our bowlers are built.

There had been a distinct trend in Indian cricket. When bowlers first burst onto the scene, they had the ability to bowl at 140-kmph but as their bodies underwent more and more workload, they either compromised pace for longevity or (the ones like Varun Aaron) could not keep their body together to sustain that pace.

Can you imagine that at one point Sunil Gavaskar took the new ball for India, bowling seam-up?

When Bumrah made his debut for Mumbai Indians as a young, slender boy, it was his unorthodox action that attracted attention.

So when you see Bumrah bowling nonchalantly at 145-kmph with a run-up that is one quarter of Shoaib Akhtar’s, it gives you chills. What’s more, as opposed to tearaway pacers who stare at the batsman, baying for blood, Bumrah does all of it and more with a smile firmly plastered on his face. Cue Thug Life music.

Like all his actions, Bumrah’s choice of not being over-the-top with his wicket celebrations or not sledging the batsman also has a rationale behind it.

“That aggression is there, of course. In fact, when I started playing the game, I used to be really assertive, trying to sledge batsmen, giving send-offs. But then, as I continued playing, I realised, all said it wasn’t helping me bowl better. I would drift away from my set of plans, not be able to execute in the manner I thought… I had to channelise that aggression and let it show in my stride and delivery. Just mouthing off would make no sense. Anyway, if the ball is doing the talking, it’s enough. I don’t need to talk,” the ace bowler said in an interview to The Times of India.

When Bumrah made his debut for Mumbai Indians as a young, slender boy, it was his unorthodox action that attracted attention. You heard cricket analysts say that his action is not sustainable, that his body runs the risk of breaking down, and that he is not someone who is here for the long haul. Five years later, Bumrah has not only become an integral part of the Test squad, but he is now the spearhead of the bowling attack.

“When batsmen play a bowler with an unorthodox action, he feels a yard faster than he actually is, for the brain takes a fraction longer to make sense of the information it is processing,” cricket analyst Aakash Chopra wrote in The Hindustan Times.

But it has to do with a lot more than an unorthodox action in Bumrah’s case. Many players with quirky actions come and then disappear after a while. You saw Shivil Koushik in the IPL playing for Gujarat Lions, you saw ambidextrous bowlers, and all other kinds, but when an unusual action is the only thing that you are banking on, once that code is cracked, you stand naked in front of the batsman as you don’t have anything else in your arsenal, which is certainly not the case with Bumrah.

Give him a dead wicket or a concrete strip, he will make things happen. On India’s recently concluded tour of Australia, in the third Test at Melbourne, there was a lot of outcry in the media of how unresponsive a surface the curator had prepared after India declared at 443-7 in their first innings. In the midst of this, Bumrah claimed career best figures of 6-33 on that vey square, as if to mock the analysts. From memory, three of his dismissals were from full deliveries and one, of course, was off an ingenious slower one that left Shaun Marsh befuddled. The pitch is flat, eh? Why not get it out of the equation!

Despite all the talent, both innate and acquired, that Bumrah possesses, it is his temperament which is his USP. He does not get fazed by the aura of the batsman. You’ll never see him losing his cool or crumbling under pressure when a batsman takes him for a couple of boundaries. He smiles, reloads, and fires another snorter.

No abuse, no staring, no send-offs.

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