By Rahul Desai Jul. 09, 2019
I grew up at a time when a victory for India was equated with hitting the ball rather than the stumps. When “Indian fast bowler” was a paradoxical term and a cautionary tale. That’s why Jasprit Bumrah feels like a miracle.
The pub is packed. Saturday night, Karaoke, spirits flowing, and a TV screen flashing a muted World Cup match as an afterthought. Suffice to say not many care about an India-Afghanistan game. But ours is the only table remotely aware of the mood in faraway Southampton. I hyperventilate. 53 needed off 42 balls, Mohammad Nabi blazing away at the crease. Is nobody worried? Is everyone pretending to enjoy Sia’s music? We just defeated Australia and Pakistan for God’s sake. We can’t lose this, right? Wrong. My mind is a mess. A young waiter notices my plight. And then, while plonking ice cubes into my empty glass, he utters three words that my scarred generation has waited 30 years to hear: “Bumrah baaki hai.”
It’s the way he says it. His voice is serene – the “baaaaaki” acquires a casually dismissive lilt, the kind usually reserved for famous finishers like pre-2016 MS Dhoni, Michael Bevan, Mike Hussey, Lance Klusener. For batsmen. For superheroes. The assurance is startling. Here is an Indian fast bowler – the paradoxical term alone is a cautionary tale. But here is an Indian fast bowler… who smiles a lot, crushes toes, celebrates with the nerdy glee of a student cracking a science quiz, and sports bookish glasses designed to read authors rather than batsmen. I can almost hear the waiter’s subtext: Bumrah is our finisher, why are you fretting?
The privileged little brat. But he is right. Jasprit Bumrah bowls the 44th over: three dots, four runs. He bowls the 47th over: three dots again. He bowls the 49th over, with 21 needed off 12, and concedes just five. In a high-scoring loss to England, Bumrah concedes just one boundary – a top-edge – in his final five overs against Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler, and Joe Root. Against Australia, Bumrah concedes just one run in the 49th over to Alex Carey, a batsman on 51 off 26 balls. Against Sri Lanka, he starts with 12 dots and concedes 11 runs in his last three overs. Against Bangladesh, Bumrah breaks the dangerous Rahman-Saifuddin partnership with the first ball of his final spell; he cleans up two tail-enders with his last two balls, even as the commentators wonder if Virat Kohli got the math wrong by bowling him out with two overs left.
Bumrah cleans up two tail-enders with his last two balls, even as the commentators wonder if Virat Kohli got the math wrong by bowling him out with two overs left. PAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images
Bumrah cleans up two tail-enders with his last two balls, even as the commentators wonder if Virat Kohli got the math wrong by bowling him out with two overs left.
PAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images
After Shami finishes Afghanistan off with a hat-trick, the waiter shrugs, as if he always knew. As if the image of an Indian bowler inspiring trust and hope and pride and love is the most normal thing in the world. He is unable to understand why my eyes are brimming over at the sight of a cricketer with two wickets to his name lifting the Man of the Match trophy. Who can blame him?
He hasn’t known the feeling of supporting an India where victory is equated with hitting the ball rather than the stumps. He hasn’t grown up starting every debate with “If Tendulkar had to face his own bowlers” to justify the non-statistical dominance of Indian batsmanship. He hasn’t known what it is like to look longingly at Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Shoaib Akhtar, Brett Lee, Curtly Ambrose, Allan Donald, Shane Bond, Lasith Malinga, Dale Steyn, and wonder when – not if – the wickets will tumble. He hasn’t known how it felt to watch Irfan Pathan fade away, Ishant Sharma limited to “unlucky” spells, Ashish Nehra throw up a mushy banana, and Zaheer Khan terrorise Graeme Smith with a crafty consistency that went missing in the first spell of the 2003 World Cup final and last spell of the 2011 final. He hasn’t known the urgency of an Indian batsman scrambling to reach a total large enough to beat both, the opposition team’s batsmen and his own team’s bowlers. He hasn’t known the contradictions of growing up in an India that has seen Sourav Ganguly open the bowling and Munaf Patel transform into a slower-ball meme who sometimes snuck in a quicker one. He hasn’t known the inevitability of lower-order dashers milking frustrated Indian quicks to stretch a modest total after a crippling top-order collapse. He hasn’t known the weight of our wait – for a death-overs, middle-overs and frontline specialist rolled into one cheerful assassin. He hasn’t known the need for speed.
Here is an Indian fast bowler – the paradoxical term alone is a cautionary tale.
Moments later, he is unable to fathom why I am alternatively pointing to Bumrah’s face and my chest – a classic “mera ladka” gesture – like a teary Rajesh Sharma after the winning six in MS Dhoni: The Untold Story, or a dramatic Tom Hanks on lighting his first bonfire in Cast Away. This reaction is personal. I am claiming Jasprit Bumrah here. This has less to do with India and more to do with where I come from. I grew up in Ahmedabad, Bumrah’s hometown – an entrepreneurial city that, not unlike a record-breaking batsman, thinks in terms of accumulation and social currency. As a result, I tend to internalise the emergence of a 25-year-old bowler through a series of imaginary anecdotes. I tend to intellectualise his form like only a freeloading Gujarati man can. I tend to see things that others won’t.
I remember visiting relatives in Goyal Intercity, the apartment complex where Bumrah resided, far more than I actually did. I remember challenging Goyal’s team to intense tennis-ball matches; I imagine a tiny six-year-old Bumrah watching from his room as the big boys played downstairs. Most of Goyal’s windows overlook the country’s only drive-in theatre; I imagine a seven-year-old Bumrah peering at the giant screen and admiring Goli and Guran’s awkward pace over Kachra’s spin in Lagaan. I imagine he must have been teased after Mission Kashmir’s Bumro became a chartbuster; “Bumro,” in fact, is well in line with the Gujarati colloquialisation of nicknames (Rahulyo, Rohityo). I imagine that the anatomy of Ahmedabad’s housing-society gardens – rectangular patches with plants and bricks marking their edges – is the reason behind Bumrah’s skippy, makeshift run-up. The bumpy transition from the parking lot’s concrete to the garden’s soft grass might have directly influenced his stop-start rhythm. I imagine that, with nowhere to go after the 2001 earthquake rendered high-rises like Goyal structurally unstable, Bumrah practiced his first yorkers on the base of these buildings to test the fragility of their walls. I also imagine his toothy wicket-taking grin stemming from a curious cultural gap – the chaste Gujarati cuss words by confounded batsmen over the years might have amused the North Indian in him to no end.
I imagine growing old in a world where I chuckle at the batsmen facing the Goyal boy. Nathan Stirk/Getty Images
I imagine growing old in a world where I chuckle at the batsmen facing the Goyal boy.
Nathan Stirk/Getty Images
I imagine chuckling at this boy with a funny action on the field opposite my house. I imagine growing old in a world where I chuckle at the batsmen facing the Goyal boy. I imagine that irrespective of who lifts this World Cup, the sheer prospect of wanting an Indian seamer to hold the ball is a winning one. I imagine “baaki hai” – a term otherwise used to signify the incompleteness of an event – to be the catchphrase of India’s most complete bowler. I imagine… because I finally can. I imagine because Bumrah is yet to bowl.
A film critic (Film Companion) and columnist (The Hindu), Rahul Desai writes about everything cinematic under Mumbai's hot sun. When he isn't writing, you can find him losing in Fantasy League Sports, or exploring obscure countries to identify locations of his favourite films.