From pinging the floor-skirting of his room with a cricket ball to becoming MS Dhoni’s go-to man in death overs, it hasn’t been a fairy tale journey for pacer Jasprit Bumrah. What made the young pacer overcome personal tragedy and a career-threatening injury was an unflinching trust in his unique action, the knack of hitting the base of stumps at will and being calm under pressure. (STATS || POINTS TABLE || FIXTURES)
It all started with an afternoon nap. In order to get some sleep, Daljeet Bumrah imposed a condition on her son who liked to bowl inside home in the hot summers. She told him he could only bowl at the walls if he found a way to keep the noise down. The 12-year-old Bumrah had a eureka moment. The floor skirting, where the wall meets the floor, was chosen as the target as he found that the ball made the least sound when it bounded off it. Daljeet was happy as she didn’t have to hear the heavier thuds from floor or the wall and just had to contend with the softer sounds. The boy was happy that he could just continue playing cricket. Both barely realised it would be the formative years of training for the yorker that Jasprit would come to be known for, and the reason MS Dhoni throws the ball to him now in the death overs.
Life isn’t a fairy tale of course and the small family of Bumrah has seen their share of ups and downs. Daljeet had to bring up her daughter Juhika and Jasprit on her own after the death of her husband Jasbir Singh to Hepatitis B. Jasprit was just seven, then. Jasbir had a chemical business that was used in pressure vessels and Daljeet had to shoulder the family burden after his death. A teacher all her life, she was the principal of pre-primary section at Nirman High School where her son too studied.
After two years of pinging the floor skirting, and playing for fun in school and neighbourhood, Jasprit started to dream higher. Daljeet still remembers the day when Jasprit, all of 14, came up with a request. “He said he wanted to become a cricketer. I was surprised of course and initially said, there are so many kids playing cricket and that it would not be easy. But he said, please keep faith in me. Being a single parent, I was a bit apprehensive but how could I have said no. At school, I keep telling parents that every child has a dream and we should give them a chance.”
Even Daljeet was surprised how focussed and driven her son was in achieving the dream. The boy would disappear from home for early morning practice sessions, and then attend school before training again in the evening. His bowling impressed the cricketing figures who came into his life and he was picked for every camp – summer camps to the official one organised by Gujarat Cricket Association. And soon, he was picked for MRF Pace Foundation and the zonal camp of National Cricket Academy.
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Luckily no one tried to change his action. “Alag hai,” was what every coach would say from his childhood days. Things continued to roll along. He was picked for Gujarat U-19 team to play Saurashtra on a batting-friendly wicket at Rajkot and he sparkled with seven wickets. “He was tough to read,” recalls Gujarat Ranji team coach Hitesh Majumdar. “Kabhi bouncer dale toh kabhi yorker. He was still young but considering his variations, we decided to pick him for Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 championship that was to be held in Pune.”
Pune had something special in store for Bumrah. The former India coach John Wright, who was scouting for the IPL team Mumbai Indians, had flown into the city. The teenager didn’t take a bucketful of wickets but he impressed with his economy rate of 6.58. His unorthodox action helped Wright take notice of him. “There was something about his action and the momentum he generated just as he was about to deliver the ball,” Wright would say later. He didn’t speak or offer any hints to Bumrah then but soon, a Mumbai Indians contract landed up. Needless to say, that was the major turning point of his career where he met Lasith Malinga and rubbed shoulders with Mitchell Johnson. All the other biggies were there – Sachin Tendulkar, Ricky Ponting and Anil Kumble – and Bumrah’s cricketing dream had just begun.
Just before a match against Royal Challengers Bangalore, Bumrah found from the team sheet that he was picked. There hadn’t been any preparation time but mentally he was ready. The start though wasn’t as he would have hoped as Kohli went after him, smashing three fours. Watching from mid-off was Sachin Tendulkar , who had given him his debut cap, and who decided to put the youngster at ease, telling him, ‘just one good ball, your match will change, don’t worry’. Luckily for Bumrah, that happened in the same over, his first little big moment came when he trapped Virat Kohli lbw. And he let out a roar and pumped his fists but the scream of joy was actually anger. “He had hit me for three boundaries in that over and so I was angry,” the teenager said later. The young boy caught the attention of cricket fans, and even made actor Amitabh Bachchan tweet.
However, a reality check was soon about to happen. After a good debut, Bumrah soon was hammered by batsmen in IPL. He didn’t know what to do. One day, on a whim, he went straight to Malinga and asked him, “What next? What should I do now?” Manpreet Juneja, a close friend of Bumrah and a Ranji player, takes the story further. “Malinga told him that he needs more variations, and more importantly perfect what he has. He had a slower one, a bouncer and a yorker but he didn’t know how to use them properly.”
Driven by Malinga’s suggestion to practice hard, Bumrah decided to work his back off. The IPL season was followed by rigorous practice. After every team session, he spent hours honing his yorker, a skill he wanted to absolutely master. Some told him to change his IPL team but he wanted to stick to Mumbai Indians so that he can be close to Malinga and learn and soak in more. Off the field, he would watch videos – he has a collection of videos of pacers taking wickets with yorkers. He would then hit the nets to replicate what he saw on his computer.
Juneja recalls that Bumrah was really hungry to play higher level of cricket. He was very focussed on his goal, and yet very calm. “Kitna relax hai, even after doing so well now. It’s his nature. He never compromises on hard work and is ambitious but remains calm and relaxed,” Juneja says. It’s a temperament trait that was always going to come in handy at higher levels, like now when he is playing for India. In the game against Bangladesh, he had started off badly, misfielding and dropping a catch and leaking runs in the first two overs but he had the tenacity to come back strongly in the end overs. Under pressure, with victory in grasp of Bangladesh, he bowled a series of yorkers to keep Mahmudullah relatively quiet, giving away just six runs, and pushing the match into the final over where pressure got to Bangladesh.
Bumrah has a unique action. It’s not slingy like Malinga but it’s unorthodox. A hyper-extension of the shoulder meant the right arm remains straight, the elbows don’t bend, and his wrists whip the ball down – he gets the dual benefit of both high-arm and the whippy release. Juneja shares another secret weapon. “Bumrah takes a pause just before release which gives him a big advantage. He gets those extra seconds almost to point and aim where to bowl. His action has helped him a lot in his rise. And his calmness is a real strength.”
Like any other youngster, Bumrah had started off by copying famous cricketers’ action but when he started to play cricket seriously, this action sort of came to him on its own. It seemed the most natural thing to do.
None of his coaches told him to change it. Even Glen McGrath at MRF told him this was a good action and not to change it. He just told Bumrah to increase his strength so that he could use this action to its fullest advantage.
“Because of his action, anybody facing him for first time, it will be very tough for him to read. Even his good length ball is tough to read because his ball comes from different angle. Malinga’s delivery doesn’t come from a normal cricketing arc; it comes below that arc. Similarly, for Bumrah because of that hyper extension that arc breaks; that is why you judge his balls late. He is even tougher to play,” Juneja says. “He continues to work hard on perfecting his yorkers and slower ones – his unique action, his hardwork, passion and his calmness is real strength.”
The calmness was nothing new for his folks back home. His sister, Juhika recalls scenes from her wedding a few months ago.
“Jassi is very down to earth kind of guy. He is very calm, most calm person in my family. There might be situations where me and my mother will say oh my god but he is very very calm. All the crazy preparation and emotional cycle was happening. I’m sure he was going through various emotions but he managed himself. He used to tell us, ‘you guys calm down, I will deal with the situations. He knows what he wants to do and that makes lot of difference. We lost our father early but he wanted to make my mother proud by playing for India one day. Credit should go to my mother; she was always there to back us up.”
Of late, life has been good to Bumrah. He hogged limelight in Vijay Hazare Trophy few months ago and even bowled MS Dhoni which many say was the one of the reasons he boarded the flight to Australia. India were desperately looking for pacer who can hit the block hole consistently and Bumrah was the only one who could do so. He impressed in Australia which made Dhoni say he was the find of the tour. And now he is making a name for himself in the World T20 tournament.
However, at the end of 2014, he had to face a major obstacle when he underwent a knee surgery after playing in a Duleep Trophy game. His close friend Rudradev Kakkad says that injury broke him down for a while. He had feared that the dream was over. “He wasn’t sure whether he could bowl at same pace or not. He was worried what will happen to his career and those were tough days.” But Bumrah managed to swing back in style. “He worked really hard to get his fitness back and began bowling again. And he started to try bowling faster than before. The best part is that ladka shaant hai – he understands situations better than most of us,” Kakkad says. “He didn’t miss any training session and did what his trainers and physios told him to do. Whether he was in the mood or not, he would keep doing his work. He used to have his bowling videos taken, and he would see and analyse them on his own. To see if anything had gone wrong and what needs to be corrected.” With all that hard work and awareness about his own bowling, it wasn’t a surprise then that Bumrah has made a smashing comeback to cricket.
Meanwhile, back at her school, Daljeet has gone from ‘principal madam’ to be known as Bumrah’s mother. Her weekend afternoon naps aren’t affected anymore. It’s the batsmen her son is after.