The Indian bombardier

A crafty fast bowler hurling thunderbolts on the turf, off it Jasprit Bumrah is as gentle as they come. His progress as a cricketer will shape the way India performs and travels not just in this World Cup but even beyond that.

India has perhaps the finest pace bowler in Jasprit Bumrah.   -  Getty Images

Fast bowling memories culled from England and specifically linked to Indians often hark back to a June day in 1983. It was June 25th to be precise and please do tone down “fast” to “medium pace” and then in your mind’s eye an image will stir. Seamer Balwinder Singh Sandhu bowling, the ball pitching a shade outside off stump and, as the West Indian opener Gordon Greenidge shoulders arms, the delivery turns diabolical. Its radar adjusts and the red cherry darts back and crashes into the stumps. Sandhu jumps, claps his hands and India is on its way to win the World Cup.

The new generation

Bhuvneshwar Kumar forms India's formidable pace quartet along with Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami and Hardik Pandya.   -  AP

Now leap across decades and as another World Cup — the 12th edition at that — moves across England, India is back in the picture. Virat Kohli’s men are one of the favourites and their strengths, besides the usual batting phalanx, gain an extra edge thanks to a remarkable bowling arsenal. India’s speed merchants can be ranked with the best in the globe and in Jasprit Bumrah, India has perhaps the finest pace bowler. His support cast of Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammed Shami is equally adept, and with wrist spinners leggie Yuzvendra Chahal and chinaman Kuldeep Yadav manning the middle overs, Kohli has an ideal blend to rely upon. Reputations can either be the edifices that last or the pressure mask that chokes. Thankfully for India, its spearhead Bumrah has a clear head, rousing pace, precise variations and an “I can bowl all day” spirit. A long run-up that commences as extended winnowing steps finally culminates in an explosive whirl of legs and arms before the back arches and the ball is released. Usually the batsman struggles as Bumrah delivers from a height and that generates steep bounce, and often his arc is one that angles in and the willow-wielder has to play.

Auspicious start

Bumrah has been in the thick of things since the World Cup commenced in London on May 30. He has played a vital role as India launched its campaign with a victory over South Africa and followed it up through a triumph over Australia. Against the Proteas in Southampton, the speedster nailed Hashim Amla and Quinton de Kock. The batsmen rushed into their shots, were perplexed by the angle, and the slip fielders came into the picture. That twin blow laid low Faf du Plessis’ men and eventually South Africa mustered 227 for nine, which proved easy pickings for India thanks to Rohit Sharma’s masterly unbeaten 122.

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“I have never seen Hashim Amla being rushed like that. Bumrah has that ability to test the very best and even at the nets he is a difficult customer to deal with,” Kohli said. Amla was equally effusive in his praise, terming Bumrah as “world class.” For an opener who has played against the best in the world and also had to tackle a Dale Steyn in the South African nets, his utterance is a further embellishment to the legend of Bumrah.

Taking on the Aussies

If the two for 44 against South Africa was an appetiser, more was to follow in the game involving Australia at the Oval on a bright Sunday in London. India posted a whopping 352 for five, but the defending champion was not going to keel over. Australia fought right from its openers Aaron Finch and David Warner to wicketkeeper Alex Carey. But importantly for India, Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar kept it tight in the first set of overs before skipper Finch and Warner sought some relief when Hardik Pandya came on to bowl.

Mohammed Shami forms India's a formidable pace quartet along with Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Hardik Pandya.   -  AP

During a tall chase, scoreboard pressure is something that batsmen have to contend with, and Kohli adroitly used Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar in short bursts during the middle. Every dot ball aggravated the suffocation and when Bhuvneshwar prised out two wickets in the 40th over, India was well set to twist the knife in. Bumrah was at hand to ensure that the tail did not wag and he had already made that first incision by rattling Usman Khawaja’s timber. Both Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar finished with three scalps apiece and India won by 36 runs.

Ahead of the World Cup, talk was about pitches in England slowing down and throwing up 300-plus scores. There was speculation too around the 500 being breached, but once the premier championship rolled in, damp skies, dark clouds and the chutzpah of bowlers, especially gun slingers like Bumrah, have ensured that there is parity in a contest. Kohli has innovatively used his pacers, mixing their spells, and Hardik too has contributed. He may not be as rapid as Bumrah, but he adjusts his lines, at times comes around the wicket and hustles the batsmen.

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Like the Chinese torture in ancient prisons when constant drops of water on a convict’s head disoriented him, Bumrah’s dot balls clench the batsman’s jugular, and as the required rate soars, the fast bowler lands a sucker punch. It has a debilitating effect and all he does is a nod of his head, a few waves of the hands and soon he is at the top of his bowling mark. “I do my practice sessions right, think about the lines I will bowl. I am not concerned about my reputation and all. All I want to do is perform well and help my team win,” Bumrah says.

With wrist spinners leggie Yuzvendra Chahal (left) and chinaman Kuldeep Yadav manning the middle overs, Virat Kohli has an ideal blend to rely upon.   -  AP

 

Clarity of thought and living in the moment have helped Bumrah scale new heights. He comes across as someone who is not entrapped by the stardust of celebrity and refuses to live in a bubble. His words in press conferences, not exactly earth-shaking, emerge as sincere and he has an easy smile. Many years ago, Sunil Gavaskar wrote about a walk in an England county: it was a post-dinner jaunt and ahead of him was a quartet of West Indian fast bowlers. They laughed a lot, trudged with a steady measure and Gavaskar admitted that their warm demeanour was a direct contrast to the mayhem they could inflict with a ball in hand.

Bumrah is like that, a crafty fast bowler hurling thunderbolts on the turf, but off it he is as gentle as they come. His progress as a cricketer will shape the way India performs and travels not just in this World Cup but even beyond that.