World Cup 2019, meet Team India: Jasprit Bumrah - John Wright and MI’s great find

Jasprit Bumrah was spotted by the IPL franchise at the B ground at the Sardar Patel Stadium, Motera. The six years since have seen a steady and spectacular rise for the fast bowler with the peculiar sling action.

Jasprit Bumrah’s phenomenal numbers reflect his accuracy with the both the new and old ball.   -  K.V.S. Giri

Jasprit Bumrah is a story of serendipitous find and stirring deeds. Initially teammates, opponents, umpires, spectators and the media looked at his unusual and awkward action with curiosity. There was many a doubting Thomas who felt that biomechanics would find everything wrong with his arm action and that the laws of cricket would come down hard on him. But not a bit careworn by sceptical eyes and public utterances, Bumrah has made a triumphant march.

Just into his seventh year of competitive cricket, and fourth year in international cricket, the speed merchant from Gujarat has been accorded the status of world class in all formats. Gujarat bowling coach Hitesh Majumdar goes to the extent of saying that Bumrah has on a number of occasions in the Ranji Trophy matches made batsmen quiver in their boots, clocking high speeds with regularity, making the ball curve in the air and manipulating the seam skilfully.

Once Bumrah made a big impact and collected a bagful of wickets in major domestic competitions, events began to unfold at a fast clip for him. He began to feature in India’s fast-lane action with the shining red ball and the white. He was capped by India in blue and then in flannels. In a short span of three years, he has turned out to be exceptional, getting his chance to play in the Test series in South Africa, England and Australia.

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Like most budding talents who went on to make a mark in international cricket, Bumrah, now 25, has an interesting back story and that perhaps started with Gujarat searching for a fresh crop of bowlers around 2013. Quite disappointed at the bright prospect of off-spinner Mohnish Parmar fading quickly because of his illegal action, the talent hunters in the state were on the lookout for a specialist spinner who could fill the void. The name of left-arm spinner Axar Patel was heard along the grapevine, but even as the 2012-13 season was about to conclude, a distinguished former New Zealand captain and former coach of the Indian team, John Wright, spotted an 18-year-old fast bowler gifted with ability to deliver raw pace and extract terrific lift off the wicket.

Almost everyone who saw Bumrah in action for the first time and tracked his impact-making career, for both state and country, is convinced that it was the talent scout tour of Wright to Ahmedabad during the West Zone Twenty20 league before IPL 2013 that paved the way for Indian cricket to unearth a great talent. A vicious bouncer of a good length that took off and flew over a Mumbai batsman and then the Gujarat captain and keeper Parthiv Patel prompted Wright, watching the match from the gallery, to get into the business of ascertaining more details about Bumrah and by late evening he was in the Mumbai Indians squad.

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Bumrah’s career-changing incident took place at the B ground at the Sardar Patel Stadium, Motera, on March 18, 2013. Since then, it has been a steady and spectacular rise for the fast bowler with the peculiar sling action. He has 49 wickets in 10 Tests, 85 in 49 ODIs and 51 in 42 Twenty20 matches. What’s significant in this collection of 185 international wickets is that he has clean-bowled 56, trapped leg-before 27 and has had 32 caught at the wicket. These are phenomenal numbers that reflect his accuracy with the both the new and old ball.

Since debuting for the national side in 2016, Jasprit Bumrah has 49 wickets in 10 Tests, 85 in 49 ODIs and 51 in 42 Twenty20 matches.   -  Vijay Soneji

 

There are a number of people who have seen a fledgling Bumrah take rapid and big strides over the last six years. Gujarat head coach Vijay Patel says, “He was playing for Nirman High School, and we got information that there is a boy bowling with an awkward action. So we looked at him. He was generating a lot of pace and taking wickets and bowling really fast was certainly threatening the other boys. We played him in the inter-districts only because of his action and pace. Even today his odd action is troubling all cricketers. We did not want to change his action. We were told by many that his action would make him injury-prone and he will not last long. We sent him to the MRF Pace Academy and even Dennis Lillee was against changing his action. These days players strengthen their weak parts of the body to remain fit. Jasprit has taken all opportunities.”

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Initially, Bumrah’s leg-before appeals were turned down by many umpires. “They did not respond positively to his LBW appeals because of his action. They thought all his deliveries were in-swingers and the angle of it would make the ball miss the stumps. They had a fixed thing in their mind. Then he gradually developed the out-swinger and a variety of deliveries,” said Patel.

“When I first saw Jasprit in 2013 in the West Zone Twenty20 league for the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy tournament, he was all sheer pace. Line and length was an issue. But as the Twenty20 format progressed and as he progressed after putting in a lot of hard work, he has turned out to be remarkable. When he was playing in his backyard, there was not wide space and hence I think he was bowling straight with 14 or 15 steps with a natural delivery action. Nothing much has changed on these counts – run up and action. But he has made significant improvement in his upper and lower body strengths and thereby his pace has increased. He has developed the yorker-length deliveries and slower ones,” said former Gujarat seamer and current bowling coach Hitesh Majumdar, who played 62 matches for Gujarat and who has been with the current team for six years.

Narendra Pancholi, a journalist who was coach at Ahmedabad’s H. B. Kapadia High School, says he met Bumrah for the first time in 2007-08. “His action was the same then; it has not changed a bit,” he says.   -  Vijay Soneji

 

Majumdar avers that picked by Mumbai Indians for IPL 2013 definitely contributed to his development. “With MI, he was able to interact with great bowlers like Shaun Pollock, Shane Bond and Lasith Malinga. He has improved a lot in line and length. His graph has only gone upwards, all by his own sheer hard work. He is a shrewd guy; he has the knack to grasp things very quickly,” he said.

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Majumdar concurs on Bumrah not changing his action. “There was no need to. He knows his action and that’s why he has largely remained injury-free. He has worked on his fitness at the NCA (National Cricket Academy) and travelling with the Indian team. He has worked out on specific parts of the body that he feels could be vulnerable. He underwent surgery to mend an anterior cruciate ligament after damaging his knee while playing football some years ago,” he said.

Another person who saw the talent in the young fast bowler was Narendra Pancholi, a journalist who was coach at Ahmedabad’s H. B. Kapadia High School. “I met him in 2007-08. He came for the selection trials of the school team. His mother was a teacher in the same school. His action was the same then; it has not changed a bit. All I told him was to bowl straight and he will get wickets. He bowled so fast that the batsmen (in the under-14 team) could not see the ball. He was always hitting the stumps,” he said.

Gujarat head coach Vijay Patel says Bumrah’s leg-before appeals were turned down by many umpires initially. “They did not respond positively to his LBW appeals because of his action. They thought all his deliveries were in-swingers and the angle of it would make the ball miss the stumps,” he says.   -  Vijay Soneji

 

Gujarat captain Parthiv Patel too has been witness to Bumrah’s rise in the last six years. Recalling the bowler’s first season for the state, Parthiv says: “Even before he was picked to play for Gujarat, we played for the same club (Income Tax Club in Ahmedabad). I always felt that he had the spark in him to progress in his career and go on to represent India. In fact, I was pushing for him to be picked in the Ranji Trophy team, one year before he actually played. I wanted him to play in 2012; he played in 2013.”

While Bumrah did not feature in the final of the Ranji Trophy two years ago, when Gujarat won its first title, he played a vital role in getting his team there. The pacer wreaked against Jharkhand in the semis, and his six for 29 in the second innings won the match for his side.

At the World Cup in England and Wales, India as well as skipper Virat Kohli will heavily lean on Bumrah’s speed and skill for quick breakthroughs. The pacer had meagre returns in the 2017 ICC Champions Trophy in England – just four wickets at 52.50 in 42 overs in five matches. Should June-July turn out to be a bright English Summer, Bumrah’s task will be cut out.