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Bumrah May Not be a World Champion, But This is His World

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan |July 13, 2019, 8:02 PM IST
Bumrah May Not be a World Champion, But This is His World

In what was to be his last act in this World Cup, Jasprit Bumrah walked into the middle of Old Trafford when large sections of the crowd were making their way out. India needed 23 off the last over in the first semi-final. A sense of gloom hung over the stands. Bumrah stood at the non-striker’s end, a hand on his hip. He watched a four, a play-and-a-miss, and an edge, waited for the review, shook hands with the umpires and the joyous New Zealanders, and walked out.

Nine matches. Eighty-four overs. Eighteen wickets. The best economy rate for anyone who had turned in more than 35 overs. Sizzling with the new ball. Sizzling with the old. Maybe, in some parallel universe, a searing Bumrah yorker has sealed India a spot in the final. That is not our reality. Here, Bumrah walks off the field, one final time in this World Cup, a losing semi-finalist.

Bumrah shakes hands with Williamson

A poignant image, yet a transient one. For Bumrah leaves behind memories so incandescent – with spell after spell kindling the imagination – that one can only think of him as a winner. Dazzling with his variations, inspiring with his control. A force of nature. Far from defeated.

*

The first ball Bumrah bowled in a World Cup may well have produced in a wicket. South Africa were 2 without loss and Quinton de Kock was on strike. Bumrah began his run-up with his customary ten-step walk-jog-scurry. He held the ball lovingly in his palms, like it was a fledgling dove, and extended his folded arms, about to release the bird into the world. The trot became a hustle. Ten quicker steps, then a leap and the inimitable release. The ball, whirring in at 137kph, was angled across the left-hander and it caught the inside edge and deflected onto de Kock’s body. A straighter ball or a more angled bat and who knows, the ball may have met the stumps.

The rest of the over went thus: angled across, beaten outside off, drifting on the pads (for two), squared up, beaten again. By now de Kock was smiling. Bumrah – his team-mate at Mumbai Indians – was smiling too. As were some of the fielders. Virat Kohli has spoken of how difficult it is to face Bumrah in the nets. Now he was relishing an opponent facing the same in a match.

Having watched six of Bumrah’s seven balls leaving the left-hander, Hashim Amla took strike. Perhaps, in the corner of his mind, was the memory of Bumrah trapping him lbw three times, in the home series early last year. Perhaps he was ready for a nasty in-ducker. The ball that arrived pitched outside off, the seam pointing to first slip, and landed in that precarious zone where a batsman is unsure whether to go forward or back. Amla offered the gentlest of pokes. The ball held its line, drew the edge, and flew to first slip.

South Africa were 11 for 1.

And Bumrah was on his way.

(Reuters) (Reuters)

*

Early last month, the website cricviz.com had a stat: since the last World Cup in 2015, no one had beaten the bat as regularly as Bumrah in ODIs. Not Starc, not Mustafizur, not Rabada. Bumrah, on an average, beats the bat once every over. One out of every six balls, Bumrah befuddles a batsman. Openers at this World Cup were aware of the danger, and many were happy to play him out. When there was assistance from the pitch, Bumrah invariably used it. When not, he didn’t seem to miss it. Edges went screaming so fast to the slips that Kohli admitted that his hands were buzzing a good 15 minutes after holding on to a catch. How good must that feel? To grasp the potency of your strike bowler from the ache in your palms.

Batsmen needed luck to stay in. So too did Bumrah to get them out. The first ball that he delivered in India’s second game ought to have brought a wicket. Australia were chasing 353. With a bulk of their hopes resting on David Warner. Along came Bumrah and let loose a shortish ball that was angled across the batsman’s body. Warner got into a tangle. The ball kissed the inside edge of the bat, dropped onto his boot and thudded into the base of leg stump. The zing bails, though, wouldn’t drop. Bumrah had beaten Warner but had been denied by physics.

There is no settling with Bumrah. Looseners outside off, half-volleys onto the pads: these expectations you can forget. You can be set up over six balls. Or undone in a matter of one.

As Amla and Warner found out, so too did Kusal Perera at Headingley. In the middle for 36 minutes, he had faced 13 balls for his 18 – but was yet to face Bumrah. First ball of the eighth over: Bumrah angled one across the left-hander and, as he had been doing all morning, got it to hold its line. Perera pushed to mid-on. The ball kissed the inside edge. Dhoni pouched the catch.

At that point Bumrah’s figures stood at 3-2-5-2.

As a matter of comparison, Bhuvaneshwar Kumar’s four overs at the other end had cost 35.

*

Just before Bumrah starts his approach there is a pause. He is at the top of his mark but takes an extra second before he trots in. Sometimes he stands still. Other times he tosses the ball up – one, two, three times – and catches it one-handed. It is tempting to assume that this is when he decides on what to bowl. But that goes against what he himself has told us. That he has more than one option up his sleeve. That he watches the batsman till the last moment – to pick up on minor shuffles and premeditation. That sometimes he himself is surprised by his delivery.

For the viewer, though, the pause is a reminder of the cerebral nature of Bumrah’s bowling. Not for him the classic stereotype of the fast bowler who, as Jeff Thomson said of himself, rolls up and “goes whang”. No captain is likely to go up to him and, as Imran Khan urged Wasim Akram during the 1992 World Cup, tell him to forget about extras and focus solely on bowling quick.

Bumrah breaches 150kph but that pace is allied with studious control. Short balls are not to be wasted. Neither too, yorkers. He is required to pick wickets but often he must also keep runs down. As against Afghanistan, when he was brought back with 127 needed from 24 overs. Eight wickets remained. And the asking rate of 5.29 was well within reach.

As a batsman, you can try to see off new-ball Bumrah. But rare is that luxury in the middle overs. This is when Kohli baits the opposition: take your risks or watch the pressure build. In his first over back – the 27th – Bumrah finds the edge but the ball doesn’t carry to Dhoni. The first ball of the next over he cuts one in and raps Rahmat Shah on the pads. The appeal is monstrous. Kohli is on his haunches, pleading, demanding, then pleading again. Bumrah is incredulous when the umpire says not out. India have used up their review – which makes the appeal that much louder.

In his first spell, Bumrah had tested Rahmat with the bouncer. He had got him to duck and slammed him on the helmet. Had Rahmat expected a short ball now and been done in by the full one? There was a fine leg out – so the bouncer was imminent – but was this a double bluff?

Two balls later the bouncer did arrive, hurtling towards Rahmat’s head. Out came the hook – whether out of self-preservation or aggression one doesn’t know – only for the top-edge to balloon to fine leg. Breakthrough.

Two balls later, a short-of-a-length ball that was so quick and so precise Hashmatullah Shahidi could only fend awkwardly. Bumrah grabbed the catch on his follow-through. The crowd at Southampton went berserk. Just now they were fretting about two set batsmen, one on 36 and the other on 21. Now, in a blink of an eye, both were gone.

Bumrah after taking Bangladesh wicket

*

Done with the Pledge and the Turn, Bumrah arrives for the final overs to enact his Prestige. This is when he goes from being a dangerous bowler to a mythical one. Often up against the most dangerous hitters, out comes his full range. Pace can range between 90 and 150kph. Rip-snorting bouncers precede slow, teasing yorkers; tennis-ball bouncers follow dipping toe-crushers.

According to cricviz: between overs 41 and 50, Bumrah has an economy rate of 5.71. The two others with better numbers – Andrew Hall and Andrew Flintoff – are long retired. Starc, who is second on the list among active cricketers, comes in at 6.10.

Against England at Edgbaston, Bumrah’s last five overs went for 26. The five overs at the other end cost 66. He was either short or full, with only a handful of deliveries on a length. Ben Stokes was in the groove. Joe Root was set. Jos Buttler was ready to tee off. Not against Bumrah. No chance. Stokes failed to read a slower one that swung in at 110kph. All he could do was pat the ball down the pitch and let out a wry smile. A smile full of respect. For a bowler of rare class.

Two days later, Bangladesh’s lower order tried gamely to chase a tall total. Thirty-six runs were needed off the last three overs. Which soon became 29 off 14 balls. The batsmen had no choice but to swing, and both Rubel Hossain and Mohammad Saifudin were backing away. This was no time to play Bumrah out. They had to find a way to smash him, however tall the odds. Out came a dipping yorker, the arm hyper-extended, the ball whiplashed, homing in on middle stump. Rubel tried to keep it out but the angle was too steep, the pace too hot, the aim too good. In came Mustafizur. And out went Mustafizur, the ball going past him before his bat could come down. He was lucky his toe wasn’t mangled. The missile went on to detonate the base of off stump.

This was Bumrah at his most atmospheric: pumping fists, leaping with joy. Two wickets in two balls. The pitch rendered superfluous. The tailenders mere props. The match done and dusted.

The yorker to Rubel brought on a visceral thrill. The one to Mustafizur doubled the delight – especially because it ended the game. But those few seconds between the two balls: now that is the zone of intoxication. When you know the batsman stands little chance against Bumrah. When nothing much is happening on the screen but so much is happening in your head. The cheers that accompany him when he runs in. The electricity swooping across the stands. The expectation that he is about to bowl a ball that will be burnt into your head for years to come. Not a hope, mind you, but a definite expectation that he is going to do something special.

Everything before and after you see in replays.

But in that tiny window of time is when you feel the power and the glory of Jasprit Bumrah.

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Cricket World Cup Points Table

Pos Team P W L T/NR PTS NRR
1
IND
9 7 1 1 15 +0.80
2
AUS
9 7 2 0 14 +0.86
3
ENG
9 6 3 0 12 +1.15
4
NZ
9 5 3 1 11 +0.17
5
PAK
9 5 3 1 11 -0.43
6
SL
9 3 4 2 8 -0.91
7
SA
9 3 5 1 7 -0.03
8
BAN
9 3 5 1 7 -0.41
9
WI
9 2 6 1 5 -0.22
10
AFG
9 0 9 0 0 -1.32

Team Rankings

Rank Team Points Rating
1 India 3631 113
2 New Zealand 2547 111
3 South Africa 2917 108
4 England 3663 105
5 Australia 2640 98
see more
Rank Team Points Rating
1 England 6420 123
2 India 6807 122
3 New Zealand 4763 113
4 Australia 5470 112
5 South Africa 5193 110
see more
Rank Team Points Rating
1 Pakistan 7365 283
2 England 4253 266
3 South Africa 4196 262
4 Australia 5471 261
5 India 7273 260
see more