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CricViz Analysis: What Makes Bumrah so Good?

By: Freddie Wilde

Edited By: Madhav Agarwal


Last Updated: January 03, 2019, 17:01 IST



India’s pace bowling attack has been very good for some time now. Before this year their four-man arsenal of Ishant Sharma, Mohammad Shami, Umesh Yadav and Bhuvneshwar Kumar—playing far more than a supporting role to Ravi Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja—had been instrumental in India’s rise to the top of the Test rankings. Between 2016 and the end of 2017, despite India playing all of their 23 Tests in Asia and the Caribbean—the least hospitable conditions for fast bowling—only South Africa’s quicks had a lower bowling average than India’s 29.18 in that period.

India’s pace bowling attack has been very good for some time now. Before this year their four-man arsenal of Ishant Sharma, Mohammad Shami, Umesh Yadav and Bhuvneshwar Kumar — playing far more than a supporting role to Ravi Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja — had been instrumental in India’s rise to the top of the Test rankings. Between 2016 and the end of 2017, despite India playing all of their 23 Tests in Asia and the Caribbean — the least hospitable conditions for fast bowling — only South Africa’s quicks had a lower bowling average than India’s 29.18 in that period.

This year India’s pace attack has been transformed from merely good to exceptional collecting 184 wickets in 14 Tests and averaging less than 25 across the year. Playing in very helpful conditions in South Africa and England has been a key factor in their superb year, as has the continued improvement of Ishant, Shami, Umesh and Bhuvneshwar, but the most significant development has been the addition of Jasprit Bumrah to the attack.

Bumrah was a surprise inclusion in India’s squad for their Test series against South Africa having only played 27 first class matches in his career and none within a year of his selection.

India’s selectors (arguably justifiably) get a lot of criticism but the selection of Bumrah has proved to be a masterstroke. Not only has Bumrah emerged as the undisputed leader of this attack but he is challenging the likes of Kagiso Rabada, Pat Cummins, James Anderson and Mohammad Abbas as one of the world’s very best Test fast bowlers and he has emerged as arguably the best all-format bowler on the planet.

Before Bumrah’s selection although India’s attack was undoubtedly excellent, it was leaderless. Ishant, by virtue of being the most experienced, was a leader only in name. Like Ishant, Shami was more workhorse than spearhead, Umesh too wayward and Bhuvneshwar too one-dimensional. Bumrah has combined accuracy of Ishant, the skill of Shami, the pace of Umesh and the movement of Bhuvneshwar, that make him an irresistible package.

The reason India have challenged South Africa, England and Australia so competitively in the last year has largely been due to the brilliance of their pace attack. It was fitting therefore that on the flattest pitch of their away odyssey in Melbourne, it was their quicks, led magnificently by Bumrah, who took career best figures of 9 for 86, that powered them to victory pulling the team 2-1 clear with one Test remaining and on the verge of their first series win in Australia.

In fact, India’s bowling performance in Melbourne - on a pitch deemed ‘average’ by the ICC due to its lack of pace, bounce and carry - is arguably one of India’s greatest away bowling performances and Bumrah’s slower ball to dismiss Shaun Marsh on the fourth morning is one of the great deliveries, a moment of magic that unlocked the match and the series.

Bumrah’s Man of the Match performance in Melbourne was the apex of a year of brilliance. In 2018 only three bowlers took more wickets than Bumrah and all of them played more Tests, none of them had a lower economy rate and only Rabada — perhaps Bumrah’s worthiest rival for the title of the world’s best bowler — had a lower strike rate and average.

Bumrah’s brilliance is in evidence beyond the traditional scorecard. Across Bumrah’s nine Tests he drew a false shot (an edge or a miss) with 25% of his balls - only Shannon Gabriel, who bowled less than half the number of deliveries, could boast a higher false shot percentage.

Players have spoken of never feeling ‘in’ against Bumrah and you can see why. A false shot percentage of 24% equates to edging or missing one in four deliveries - that’s an astonishingly high rate of uncertainty to cope with. Against Bumrah you can never relax; a ball that is simply too good for you is often just moments away.

According to CricViz’s Expected Runs and Wickets which evaluates the quality of every delivery using only ball tracking data — therefore ignoring the quality of the batsman on strike and cutting through any luck associated with the result of the delivery, Bumrah’s Expected Average of 22.40 runs per wicket is the best of any bowler in the world in 2018.

The foundation of Bumrah’s excellence is the uniqueness of his bowling action. Despite a very short run up Bumrah generates extreme pace from an explosive action of whirring, hyperextending arms finishing with an atypical release point. Bumrah is known as being exceptionally difficult to read from the hand and this is because to right-handers the ball is delivered from an extremely wide position on the crease and to left-handers when bowling round the wicket from an extremely tight position on the crease.

Batsmen simply aren’t used to facing balls released from where Bumrah lets them go. This is clearly illustrated by ball tracking data which shows Bumrah delivers 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 consequence of Bumrah’s wide release point to right-handers and tight release point to left-handers coupled with his natural angle into the right-hander and away from the left-hander both challenges the stumps to an unusual degree and makes it very difficult for batsmen to line Bumrah up and accurately predict the line of the ball.

The extent of the problems Bumrah poses batsmen in this regard is shown by the fact that five of his Test wickets have come when the batsman has been playing no shot — most memorably when the left-handed Keaton Jennings was completely foxed by an in swinger released wide of the crease from over the wicket.

The confusion created by Bumrah’s release and angle forces batsmen to play at his deliveries significantly more often than against most fast bowlers whose release points, angles and lines are more conventional. Playing at the ball brings Bumrah more into the game, creating the possibility of catches in the slips and for the wicket-keeper.

There is far more to Bumrah than only his angle though. Most significantly Bumrah is genuinely and regularly fast. In 2018 Bumrah bowled 75 balls faster than 150 kph - that is express pace.

But not only is he capable of touching rapid speeds but he can maintain fast speeds consistently as well. Behind Mitchell Starc who is comfortably the most consistently fast bowler in Test cricket at the moment, delivering 71% of his balls above 140 kph, Bumrah was one of a group of three bowlers along with Gabriel and Pat Cummins who bowled around half of their balls in 2018 faster than 140 kph.

Additionally to high speeds Bumrah is also capable of dropping his speed. The Marsh wicket was the headline example of that but slower balls is something that Bumrah, clearly influenced by his white ball origins, appears more willing to attempt. In his first year of Test cricket Bumrah bowled 74 slower balls.

Unlike Starc and Gabriel, Bumrah’s extreme pace does not compromise his accuracy. In 2018 Bumrah pitched 64% of his deliveries on a good length, 63% on a good line and 42% on a good line and a good length - these figures mean he is mixing with the metronomes of Test cricket: the likes of Mohammad Abbas, Josh Hazlewood and Vernon Philander.

The last major factor in Bumrah’s scintillating package is movement - both in the air and off the pitch. Playing in South Africa and England where conditions provide massive assistance to quick bowlers clearly enhanced Bumrah’s threat in this regard but his ability to exploit these conditions ranks him alongside masters of the moving ball such as James Anderson, Trent Boult, Ben Stokes, Abbas and Philander.

Seam movement, the more dangerous of the two forms of lateral movement because it happens later, is Bumrah’s main weapon. In 2018 only five bowlers got a higher proportion of their deliveries to deviate by a ‘large’ degree off the pitch than Bumrah’s 37% - a figure which means one in three of his deliveries seam by more than 0.75°, the danger threshold when batting averages for all players drops below 20.

Bumrah is not a big swinger of the ball — more than half his balls in 2018 swung less than 0.50° - categorised as ‘no swing’ - but what he can do is move the ball both ways. Bumrah’s natural skill, the product of his high-arm action, is to swing the ball in to the right-hander and away from the left-hander but for every two of this direction of swing he bowls one that goes the other way. A ratio that keeps the batsman guessing, never allowing him to settle.

In addition to Bumrah’s remarkable skillset he appears to be intelligent bowler and a quick learner. Having played only a handful of first class matches before this year Bumrah is learning how to bowl in red ball cricket as he goes, doing so at the highest level and against the best players in the world, and doing so brilliantly.

Bumrah has also displayed a tendency to improve spell on spell so far in his Test career, which suggests he is very effective at adapting his tactics according to the conditions and his opponents.

The result of Bumrah’s dazzling ability is a remarkably well-rounded bowler. Bumrah possesses an astonishing array of skills that he can execute to exceptional levels and employ with intelligence: he is simultaneously a freakish bowler, a rapid bowler, an accurate bowler and a movement bowler. Of the bowlers in Test cricket at the moment only Rabada — and possibly Cummins or Hazlewood are as versatile as Bumrah.

A breakdown of Bumrah’s Test wickets illustrates the variety of his threat. Full, good, short, in-swing, out-swing, in-seam, out-seam, slower balls - Bumrah has it all.

Of course, these are early days - Bumrah has only played nine Tests and he’s been assisted by helpful conditions in South Africa and England in particular, but it is impossible not to watch Bumrah and see a bowler of once in a generation potential.

It is testament to his versatility that it is likely that his biggest challenge will be fitness. Bumrah’s explosive action puts a huge amount of strain on his body and he has already had to battle injuries across his international career. By all accounts he is one of the few Indian players who can rival Virat Kohli for dedication to his fitness and he will need to maintain that and manage his schedule carefully to ensure injuries don’t derail his talent.

Right now it seems like staying fit might be the only thing standing between Bumrah and a potentially great Test career.

Data provided by cricviz.com - the world’s leading cricket analytics company.

(Freddie Wilde is an analyst at the cricket data analytics company CricViz. He tweets @fwildecricket)

first published:January 02, 2019, 09:42 IST
last updated:January 03, 2019, 17:01 IST
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