John Wright, former India coach and current scout for Mumbai Indians, remembers the time he unearthed a talent called Jasprit Bumrah.
“I first saw him in 2013 at the Syed Mushtaq Ali Twenty20 tournament game in Ahmedabad. Gujarat was playing Mumbai,” said Wright. “He was just 18 or 19, a raw bowler. He bowled fast yorkers for about two overs, [and] had an unusual action. He looked good from where I was seeing him. I called up Rahul Sanghvi, the former India spinner with Mumbai Indians, and we signed him right away—the very next morning!”
Now, one year old in the Test arena and nicknamed “Boom”, Bumrah has already made a big impact on his opponents’ psyche. He can bowl north of 145kmph, and south of 120kmph; just ask Shaun Marsh, who got bamboozled with a slow yorker, the last ball before lunch on Day 3 of the third Test. That one over showed his range—139.75kmph, 141.07kmph, 143.28kmph, 141.60kmph, 145.98kmph and 111.95kmph. With nine wickets for 86 runs in the match, Bumrah was the obvious choice for man of the match as India won a Test in Melbourne after 37 years. With the win, India took an unassailable 2-1 lead in the four-match series and retained the Border-Gavaskar Trophy (the holders retain the trophy if the series is drawn).
Bumrah bowls consistently, probing the batsmen with each delivery. He bowls the yorker to maximum effect even in the long format, and he bowls the inswinger and outswinger with devastating accuracy. Even in these times of massive exposure and easily available video footage, batsmen around the world find it difficult to study him and pick what is coming their way. Former Australian cricketer Brad Hodge said Bumrah is a nightmare to face. “If you ask any batsman, he is one of the most dangerous bowlers,” said Hodge. “He is quick, very accurate and moves the ball both ways.” Indian skipper Virat Kohli—undoubtedly one of the best in the world at present—said, “If there is a pitch like Perth on offer, I would never want to face Jasprit Bumrah.”
Like quite a few players of his generation, Bumrah first made his mark in the IPL—a trend the purists have grudgingly accepted. A few months later, he made his first class debut for Gujarat against Vidarbha on a green top wicket at the old Lal Bahadur Shastri Stadium in Nagpur. Vidarbha was bowled out for 85 in the first innings. Bumrah took 4 wickets for 30 runs. One of his victims was former India batsman Hemang Badani, who was dismissed for a duck. Though the match is not a happy memory for Badani, he remembers it in great detail. “He was a very freak guy,” Badani told THE WEEK. “We never thought he would be so deceptive and from the look of it, he has not changed much since then. When we were planning for that match, all we knew was that here was a bowler who bowls well. We did not have any videos of him. By the second innings, we decided to make sure that whenever he was in, just try and not give our wickets to him. He was quick even then.” Bumrah was the leading wicket taker for Gujarat in his debut 2013-14 season.
Tales of Bumrah spread fast and wide in the domestic circuit. At Mumbai Indians, with Lasith Malinga as bowling partner (now mentor) and Shane Bond as bowling coach (since 2015)—both of whom have fired in many a toe-crusher in their time—Bumrah made rapid strides. He made his debut for India in white ball cricket in 2016, but had to wait two more years to earn his first Test cap. Kohli said Bumrah was selected because he was training like he wanted to play Test cricket. He also praised Bumrah’s fitness levels and work ethic. “His mindset is what separates him from anyone else in the world right now,” said Kohli. “He looks at a pitch and thinks wickets. The way he has matured in Test cricket and the areas he is bowling in so soon is a very scary sign for all the batsmen in the world.”
From his home in Canterbury, New Zealand, Wright is closely following Bumrah’s exploits against trans-Tasman rival Australia. And he is delighted with Bumrah’s performance and his evolution in his debut Test year. “He has been fantastic,” Wright told THE WEEK. “He has learnt a lot from Shane Bond over at MI. He is progressing each day, most importantly he is hungry. He is one of the main players for India in all formats of the game, which is a great thing.”
Bumrah’s emergence as India’s X-factor has left many past and present cricketers stunned. Former India batsman Yashpal Sharma, who was a member of the team which won at Melbourne in 1981, said, “It was a similar wicket in 1981 and one bowler made the difference then—Kapil Dev.” Sharma said it would not be possible for everyone to generate the kind of speed Bumrah does with his last few strides before releasing the ball. He told THE WEEK that Bumrah was difficult to pick like legendary pace bowlers such as England’s Bob Willis and New Zealand’s Richard Hadlee, both of whom he has faced. “He has deceptively high pace and batsmen cannot figure out what pace he will be bowling at,” said Sharma. “He will trouble any batsman. They have to play him late, one cannot commit earlier. Some of his balls are unplayable.” He added that Bumrah’s ability to swing the ball both ways with “that awkward action and run-up” was special. “The short run-up means that Bumrah manages to conserve his energy and put it all in his bowling,” said Sharma, adding that the biggest challenge for the team management would be keeping him injury free. The unique action and the power generated with it are big injury concerns. The shoulder generates all the power and is a major injury risk.
Former India pace spearhead Javagal Srinath calls Bumrah a thinking bowler. “Mind over matter,” said Srinath. “What he thinks needs to be executed by his body. His accuracy is amazing for his action. His arm speed is superb. He puts everything in his last bit of delivery. He is a real gain for India.” Former India all-rounder Manoj Prabhakar, not one to be easily impressed, could not hide how much he was impressed by Bumrah’s performances and temperament. He said Bumrah reminded him of Wasim Akram. “Wasim was also seriously fast, but deceptive and had variations. That slower one he (Bumrah) bowled to Marsh showed his class. Akram, too, had a short run-up and was devastating with his yorkers.” Prabhakar said Bumrah’s ability to learn quickly added skills to his arsenal, making him stand out among the young crop of pace bowlers in the world.
Bumrah’s temperament has earned him much praise. Angry stares and verbal volleys are not for him. “Even when he was just playing FC (first class) cricket, he was not one to celebrate his wickets aggressively,” said Badani. “He would be one step ahead always, clear about what he wanted to do. You can see it in his eyes and that grin when he outfoxes a batsman. The way he goes about his business is very old school.”
While Bumrah may be the most talked about Indian pacer at present, he has bowling partners who are diverse, hard working and equally committed. Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, along with Bumrah, have shown that, for once, India’s bowling is ahead of its batting. Former Australian skipper Ricky Ponting rated the current Indian attack as the best to come to Australia.
Australian captain Tim Paine, too, admitted that his depleted and struggling team was confronting one of the best bowling attacks in the world. Just the fact that a bowler of the standing of Kumar has been benched in Australia says a lot. While there have been formidable pace attacks in the past, too, the bench strength created is a first. “India has produced great fast bowlers, but as a group these four bowlers are doing really well,” said former India spinner Laxman Sivaramakrishnan. He credits Team India’s bowling coach Bharat Arun for the creating this lethal attack. “Arun was the bowling coach at the NCA (National Cricket Academy) when these same bowlers were there,” he said. “There is clearly a continuity. Arun believes in empowering the bowlers, uses a lot of video analysis and holds separate meetings for them.”
According to Wright, New Zealand has a reasonable attack and England, too, has a good pace bowling set up, but India looks like a very balanced bowling unit. Arun, perhaps sums it up best. “It has been the year of fast bowlers,” he said. “They have done exceptionally well. Load monitoring is extremely crucial if you want them to last over a period of time.” The biggest challenge will be managing Team India’s bowling resources to keep them fit and in form for the big one—the ICC Cricket World Cup starting on May 30.