The January sun was shining bright at the Sydney Cricket Ground, as the Australian team came out for practice. There is a certain amount of joy that the Australian cricketers get in bulldozing a fierce rival. Having reclaimed the 50 over World Cup title in their own backyard less than a year ago, the Aussies were once again the team to beat. And they had the visiting Indians on the mat, leading the 5-match series 4-0. A chance to whitewash India at the SCG beckoned.
For India it was about a fight for respect. A few changes were needed in the side and they were rung in. A young fast bowler, initially named in the squad for the T20I series that was to follow, was fast tracked into the side. His name was Jasprit Bumrah. Yes, that bowler with an awkward bowling action who played in IPL for Mumbai Indians. Bumrah made his debut and sent captain Steve Smith packing in his second over itself. He ended with figures of 2/40 from his 10 overs in a high scoring match, which India went on to win.
A day later, the writer, then part of the broadcaster’s crew, went to shoot a small feature with the youngster. The Q n A session started in Hindi. A composed Bumrah responded to the first question. Before the next question could be asked he spoke, “Will this be used for English telecast? You can ask me in English, I am comfortable.” That confidence in his voice stayed throughout the interview and was seen in the field thereafter, every time he took to the greens in an India shirt.
What followed was the consolidation of a bright start in the international arena. Bumrah didn’t sit on his laurels, he worked on his game everyday to become the best version of himself. Yet, he got branded as a limited overs specialist. With captain Virat Kohli keen to win Test series outside the sub-continent, a pace battery was the need of the hour. Umesh Yadav’s inconsistent form meant Bumrah was drafted in as the fourth pacer as India looked to give South Africa a taste of their own medicine. A battle of attrition was fought over three Test matches with the hosts coming out on top. India lost the series, but they got a world class Test pacer.
Bumrah impressed on the following tour of England as well but India’s batting frailties meant another series was lost. The dream though was fulfilled a few months later as India emerged victorious on Australian soil for the first time, and Bumrah was in the centre of that success. A virtuoso performance in West Indies earned him praise from the Caribbean legends and India’s long held dream of a fast bowling superstar had finally come true.
After playing in the longest format for two years, Bumrah is yet to play a Test match in home conditions. But his performances in helpful surfaces away from home have been the best ever by an Indian bowler. In 12 Test matches, all played outside the sub-continent, Bumrah has 62 wickets to his name at an average of 19.24 with five 5-wicket hauls to his name already.
Bumrah has a strike rate of 43.7 in Test matches, which is the ninth best ever in the history of the game and well clear of the next Indian (Mohammed Shami) on the list. Clearly, Bumrah has taken to red ball cricket like a fish to water and in him India finally has world class fast bowler who can dominate opposition batsmen in their own backyard.
His lethal pace and accuracy means opposition teams are now wary of dishing out green tops to India and that has in turn helped the batsmen. But one man alone can’t win you a Test match and captain Virat Kohli knows that very well. Bumrah and the other pacers will be expected to deliver the goods at the Basin Reserve in Wellington, but for India to make it eight wins in wight Test matches, it will need a combined effort.
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