MUMBAI: Jasprit Bumrah’s value to Team India goes beyond four overs of focussed T20 bowling, especially in the slog overs. As the unquestioned captain of India’s bowling unit, his absence on the pitch during the World Cup T20 deprives the team of a leader who shows the way to teammates about minute adjustments needed for maximum advantage of the conditions when defending totals.
Bowlers will be without a sounding board for ideas on minute changes in length, updates on the mindset of reputed batters, suggestions on exploiting the pressure on the batter after a tight over by himself.
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Bumrah is a one-match strikeforce whose hold on batters in four overs of sustained hostility is an accepted fact. The expertise in sizing up a batter makes him a useful ally for the skipper.
Rohit Sharma will arrive in Australia feeling the absence of a deputy whose value increases just by his presence on the pitch and in the dressing room. Nobody is also indispensable in cricket, as Sri Lanka proved so effectively with an inexperienced squad at the Asia Cup in the UAE. Jofra Archer’s non-availability at World Cup 2019 for the final against New Zealand did not hamper England.
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Just like Wanindu Hasaranga stepped up at the Asia Cup, to enable the Lankan lions to let out a mighty roar and Ben Stokes raised his game to inspire England to first ODI World Cup title, players will put their hand up in the Indian camp when the T20 World Cup action reaches a critical stage. The momentum on match day matters more than the absence of a match-winner respected and feared in world cricket.
Australia is familiar territory for the bowlers on the Indian squad travelling for the World Cup this month, including the bowler likely to step into the slot arising from Bumrah’s exclusion from the tour party. Ever since Rahul Dravid took over as head coach (2021), continuous efforts to set up bowling, batting, wicket-keeping options will be useful in maintaining ability to react to match situations.
Ravichandran Ashwin will step up into a lead role in the bowling unit following Bumrah’s absence, on the basis of previous experience in Australia and a sobering effect on rival batters in India’s group, starting with a face-off against Pakistan. Team India is short of an ace to take the place of a one-man demolition squad, the way medical advice forced the management at World Cup T20 2021 to keep Hardik Pandya away from bowling duty, averting physical breakdown.
Dravid and the national selectors have faced the flak from ex-players/cricket experts, for trying out a rotation policy right till the three-match home T20s against South Africa. Putting players into certain match situations to test their understanding of roles as per gameplan, hurts us. The losses are short-term, gains are long-term, as is visible from the development of younger fast bowlers.
England does not have a replacement of Jofra’s calibre in ODI and T20, nor does India have a player to step into Bumrah’s huge shoes (70 wickets from 60 T20 internationals) and tie batters in knots over four overs. Taking off on a short, stuttering run-up, every delivery by the India bowling spearhead was an event. Batters struggled against his accuracy and variety, choosing to attack the other bowler.
The change in coaching staff led to Paras Mhambrey taking charge as bowling coach, from Bharat Arun under whom Bhuvaneshwar Kumar, Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Shami, Hardik Pandya, Mohammed Siraj developed into a hunting pack of fast bowlers. Arshdeep Singh and Deepak Chahar are the new additions, from among whom the selectors will make their choice.
None of them can do a Bumrah at the forthcoming World Cup, collectively those chosen have the ability, on Australian wickets and with assistance from fielders, to the job expected from each one over four overs. The stand-byes also travel with the main Indian squad, so the chosen bowlers will get time to adapt their lengths and get a feel of conditions before the curtain goes up.
Dravid and Mhambrey would have liked to have more competitive games to assess the bowling options, now that Bumrah has been ruled out for medical reasons, before taking the final call. That stage has passed and the chief coach, bowling coach have recent performances (Asia Cup, home series against Australia and SA) to draw up a bowling plan and make each delivery count.
Pandya is a probable option for the death overs, going by his cool head in crunch situations and assistance available, for bowlers hitting the deck, off the pitch. The huge grounds in Australia, longer boundaries shifts the balance marginally in favour of bowlers able to keep calm amidst a storm brewing inside their head, during the slog overs.
The Indian all-rounder has displayed a canny brain for such make-or-break situations. Sporting success is about spotting solutions to problems, backing the player in the hot seat all the way. Australia promoted under-fire Mitchell Marsh to number three in the batting line-up during the previous T20 World Cup and reaped the riches.
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