Jasprit Bumrah, Indian Test Cricket’s Biggest Find of 2018
Chetan Sharma won a Test series for India in England in 1986, and became the first bowler to take a hat-trick in a World Cup in 1987. But we all know Chetan Sharma as the bowler who allowed Javed Miandad to snatch a famous title win in 1986 at Sharjah.
History Repeats Itself
Some 31 years later, Jasprit Bumrah was cast in a similar situation, also for his act of indiscretion against Pakistan during the 2017 Champions Trophy final. Bumrah overstepped while claiming the wicket of Fakhar Zaman. That no-ball turned out to be costly as Zaman turned the tables on India with a blistering hundred.
Bumrah’s act caught the attention of Rajasthan traffic police who used the imagery to promote their values of following all traffic rules. Much like it happened with Sharma all those years ago, Bumrah could well have been affected by the all-round ridicule, but he did not take it to heart. The Indian think-tank also decided not to penalise him much for the act as they rewarded him for his consistency and wicket-taking abilities in the limited-overs format.
Cast in a New Role
By the time 2017 ended, captain Virat Kohli and head coach Ravi Shastri had plans to cast Bumrah in a new role, as a Test strike bowler. They did not have much first-class track record to go by while plumping for Bumrah.
Many however felt that Bumrah needed to be held back just for white ball cricket as he was an unproven, untested entity in the longer format.
The right-arm pacer had not played much for Gujarat in Ranji Trophy since 2013, but the team management believed in his abilities.
It was therefore hardly a surprise that when 2018 started Bumrah, riding high on the confidence posed in him by the team management, came good. He stood out with his unorthodox action, but more importantly his speed rattled South Africa’s experienced core. While his white ball impact continued, it was in Test match cricket that his presence was felt majorly as he snatched a five-wicket haul in his very first series.
When he did not play in the first two Tests in England, you could see a spark missing in the Indian attack. Bumrah’s speed was missed because he always brought an X-factor in a bowling attack that looked a bit staid at times. Ishant Sharma had turned into a workhorse, Mohammed Shami was quite moody with the ball and showed a spark only once in a while and Umesh Yadav was quite unlucky to keep missing out on an opportunity. The moment Bumrah entered the attack again you could see the difference he made to the attack as he snapped up yet another five-wicket haul.
There was a spark and the batsmen looked rushed while trying to play him. Despite Bumrah’s return, it was quite clear that India’s batting proved to be the downfall for the side and they lost the Test series in England, much like in South Africa.
Bumrah then bowled India to a title win in the Asia Cup alongside another ‘freak’ Kuldeep Yadav thereby underlining his growing importance in Indian cricket. It was quite clear at that stage that Bumrah was going to be the crucial cog in Kohli’s planning for a maiden Test series win in Australia. The team management knew they had to handle Bumrah with a lot of care and kept him out of the Test matches against Windies.
India needed Bumrah to be at his fittest when it came to playing in Australia. All that careful handling finally paid off Down Under.
Too Hot to Face
Australian batsmen have found it difficult to face Bumrah thus far in the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. He has proved to be smart and at times too clever for the batsmen. He has transferred all his white ball skills into the longer format and kept the batsmen guessing like Shaun Marsh found out in the first innings of the Melbourne Test when Bumrah picked his third five-wicket haul for the year in Tests. In many ways Bumrah has shown that T20 cricket can also produce cricketers for Test matches and that you cannot slot them into formats without actually testing them.
Bumrah’s efforts have now earned worldwide praise especially from his peers and the scouts like former India coach John Wright who was one of the first to spot him.
New Leader of the Pack
India has now well and truly found a spearhead for its attack in Bumrah. The baton has passed over the years from Kapil Dev to Javagal Srinath to Zaheer Khan to Ishant Sharma and now to Bumrah. But what Bumrah has is a support cast worthy of being match-winners on their own in Test matches. They all back each other and that makes this Indian pace attack the most well-rounded in our Test history, albeit still lacking the ability to mop up the tail swiftly.
Bumrah ended 2018 on a high with 48 wickets in Test cricket. But here’s where the problem is going to start for the think-tank. As the most valued bowler in Indian cricket, there would be a tendency to play him in every format and in every match.
Handle With Care
Bumrah is a once in a lifetime bowler for Indian cricket with his extreme speeds and his awkward action. He needs to be wrapped in cotton wool and used sparingly depending on the nature of the tournament/series. Ideally Bumrah should be rested right after the Test series so that he can be unleashed in full force during the World Cup. But that will not be the case.
As things stand there are only two cricketers in India who are certain of a place in all three formats – Virat Kohli and Jasprit Bumrah.
Looking at Kohli struggle with his back at Melbourne and then Bumrah’s workload, India needs to be a lot more careful in their handling of their two prized possessions.
While India will find another young batsman or will have other senior pros to step up to cover for Kohli, it is in the pace bowling department that we will face the pinch. As seen in the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, the other fast bowlers feed off Bumrah’s abilities. In white ball cricket the situation with pace bowling is very grim with no support cast in sight. Therefore, Bumrah needs to be at his fittest and fastest if India harbour any hopes of winning the 2019 World Cup. That’s how swiftly Bumrah has risen through the ranks just over the last 12 months.
Bumrah has shown that with proper management you can get the best out of any cricketer. Wonder why that simple courtesy is not shown to other cricketers in the current system?
(Chandresh Narayanan is former cricket writer with The Times of India, The Indian Express, ex-Media Officer for ICC and current media manager of Delhi Daredevils. He is also the author of World Cup Heroes, Cricket Editorial consultant, professor and cricket TV commentator.)