Jasprit Bumrah tearing apart West Indies batting line-up in their own backyard was a sight to behold. For cricket fans across the globe, the mere thought of witnessing a young Indian speedster repeatedly terrorising opposition batsmen with pace and swing was unthinkable, but not any more. Going by how Bumrah has gone about his business so far his short Test career, an India fan, or a cricket fan of any description, should be very, very excited.
Bumrah’s 5 for 7 - the least expensive five-wicket haul by an Indian in Test history - proved decisive in India registering a record 318-run win in Antigua. With that spell, he impressed an Antiguan fast-bowling great - Andy Roberts - with his clarity of thought and aggression. “India had Kapil Dev and some others, but we never thought they could produce someone as lethal as Bumrah,” Roberts told The Indian Express.
“He's the best Indian fast bowler I have seen."
Roberts, who took 202 wickets in 47 Tests, added: “A freak was the only element missing in our (West Indies) bowling line-up. In fact, Bumrah is the only variety of bowler we had never produced.”
At a time when bowlers like Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Tim Southee are struggling to perform across formats, the Indian is making an impact in almost every game he plays. Bumrah's journey from a white-ball specialist to one of the best, if not the best, Test bowler in the world inside two years of his debut is nothing but remarkable.
Called up to the ODI team during the tour of Australia in 2016, Bumrah hogged the limelight with his skill to bowl reverse swinging toe crushers and maintaining the perfect length at every stage of the game. His consistency made him a first-choice across ODIs and T20Is. Bumrah was rewarded a spot in the Test squad for the tour of South Africa in 2018 and he straight away made an impression with a five-wicket haul in Johannesburg.
So far, he has only played 12 Tests. Bumrah already has 62 wickets at an average and strike rate of 19.24 and 43.7 respectively. He's taken at least one five-wicket haul in each of the four countries he's played Test cricket in (South Africa, England, Australia and West Indies). And he's only 25.
The road ahead looks promising, not only because of Bumrah's stunning start in Tests but also his enhanced skill-set. His show in West Indies - 13 wickets in two Tests - is an example that he’s a quick learner.
In the fourth innings of the first Test at North Sound, Antigua, all five of Bumrah's wickets came through the outswinger (to the right-hander) and inswinger (to the left-hander).
Not conventionally known to be his strength, Bumrah revealed that the tactical change was brought about by the conditions at play at the Vivian Richards Cricket Stadium.
“We used the breeze to our advantage and stuck to our plans, to bowl inswing from that end and outswing from this end,” said Bumrah.
In the second game at Sabina Park, Kingston, Jamaica, he relied on inswinger to cause the damage. In the process, Bumrah became only the third Indian after Harbhajan Singh and Irfan Pathan to take a Test hat-trick and finished with 6/27.
SLINGING ARM - A SURESHOT ADVANTAGE
Despite a very short run-up, Bumrah generates extreme pace with his hyperextended sling-arm action. Both right-handers and left-handers have found it tough to read Bumrah, something which could become a trend, according to former India fast bowler Chetan Sharma.
“The credit has to go to the coaches who trained him during his early days and encouraged him to stick to his bowling action. Bachche ko maloom nahi hota. Usko jaise mould kar doge vo waisa ho jayega,” Sharma told Outlook.
“I’m happy that his coaches didn’t try to rework his action and instead had faith in him. His action will always be difficult to pick.
“How lethal he can be is something we all have seen now.”
Batsmen simply aren’t used to facing balls released from where Bumrah lets them go. In 2018, according to CricViz, Bumrah delivered 86% of his deliveries to right-handers from wide on the crease compared to 12% for all right-arm quicks to right-handed batsmen and 64% of his deliveries to left-handers from close on the crease compared to 28% for all right-arm quicks to left-handed batsmen.
The unusualness of Bumrah’s action makes it difficult for batsmen to line him up and rightly predict the line of the delivery.
TIME TO TIME REST
For now, the Team India management is reaping the rewards of Bumrah's brilliance, but to make sure that it continues for the next 8-10 years, he needs to be handled carefully. Fast bowlers have become a fragile entity in today's game and managing their workload is of utmost importance.
The temptation to unleash Bumrah in every international is just too big to resist but India may have to curb it in order to gain the greater prize. The next three years will see India compete for top honours in the two World T20s and in the ICC Test Championship. For any and every crucial game, India can’t afford to lose Bumrah due to injury.
Fortunately for India, they now have the luxury of resting Bumrah on series-to-series basis. Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Umesh Yadav and Navdeep Saini have enriched India's pace attack in addition to giving the management the luxury of following the rotation policy.
It all depends on how India handles its precious jewel and how the bowler handles the hype and adulation. For the time being, Bumrah’s workload has been managed well. In the ongoing year, Bumrah has already been rested twice - for the ODIs in Australia, ODIs and T20s in New Zealand and West Indies.