A group of middle-aged men are gathered around a makeshift drinks table in a corner of the George Headley Stand, drowning the misery of another West Indies collapse in the rum of their choice. “Yeah man, they makin’ us drink more. You cant’ watch them without some rum. They givin’ us headache. This man Bumrah, he’s like rum, hits you fast,” says Ralph, a 65-year-old.
Soon the discussion drifts into which brand of rum Bumrah characterises. “I think he’s like Appleton, smooth, it’s like drinking juice, you won’t realise it until the head starts spinning,” says Regal, who claims he hasn’t missed a Test since home boy Patrick Patterson battered the Englishmen in 1986. He’s baffled by the economy of Bumrah’s run-up. “How can you generate such speed from this run-up? You think he’s harmless like your old fellas, but then he hits you. He’s got a lot of power, eh? He Indian? Is he human?” He then arrives at a firm conclusion: “He’s an Indian with a Jamaican soul.”
Also Read | Jasprit Bumrah: Chronicle of dismissals foretold
But Ralph, much more a fan-boy, disagrees with the Appleton comparison. He says Bumrah’s more like another local brand that leaves a bitter aftertaste. “He’s like Coruba, man. Very hard to drink even with juice. It’s worse than cough syrup. Three shots and you’re down. You wake up the next morning, you won’t realise what has happened,” he says.
A third one, Joseph, negates both. To him, Bumrah is like Wray and Nephew, a headier local brew, notorious for its hangover. “The headache never leaves you. The next three-four days, you won’t feel like drinking it again. Let me tell you, these boys wouldn’t want to face Bumrah again in their lifetime. He give them hangover they will never forget,” he says, evoking laughs and approval from his friends.
In Jamaica, whatever that amuses them, whether it’s a fancy car or a sportsman, they compare it to two intoxicants — rum and marijuana. It’s also a sign of approval that they like what they’re watching. They behold him amusingly, even reverentially. The qualities they see in their heroes are not technical, rather it’s the more human qualities they admire and applaud. Like bravado, toughness or even a bit of quirkiness. There is also some ganja talk. You can hear people wondering: “What stuff he’s smoking, man? Is it the one your sadhus smoke? Give our boys some of it too. They need some of it when batting.” The logic being in marijuana’s influence, you keep doing the same thing for a long time, as if in a trance.
To Kelly, one of the scorers for the Test, Bumrah poses an occupational hazard like few others. He takes wickets in piles and induces typos.
“He gets wickets with almost every ball. So you have to be really fast. My fingers are still aching.” Contrary to what commentators make us believe, a batsman who gets out for zero troubles the scorers more than someone who has scored a hundred.
“It’s a commentator’s cliche. First we have to enter the details of the previous batsman, how he got out, the over he got out, how many balls he has faced. We have to make at least nine entries. And if another batsman gets out, we have to go through all this process again. So imagine our trouble when someone’s picking a hat-trick. I hate hat-tricks,” Kelly says.
She was plunging into a post-lunch nap when Bumrah ripped through West Indies on the second day. “My hands have never worked faster, yet a couple of entries were wrong, and I had to cross it. Four crosses and you have to take a new sheet, which means I would have to do it all over again. One thing that made my job easier was that he did it all by himself. We didn’t have to find who the fielder was!”
But there’s fan-girl inside her who wants a Bumrah autograph on the scoresheet. “My son likes him. He watches a lot of IPL. He wears a Bumrah jersey too.”
Almost everyone wants one. Whenever he walks on and off the pitch, the stands converge to the flight of stairs that lead to the dressing room, pleading him for autographs and jerseys. Bumrah can’t oblige all, and when he’s short of time, he flashes his gracious smile, leaving a lot smitten.
“He’s got the best smile in the world,” gushes Amy, an U-19 Jamaican cricketer, who asserts: “I’m a fast bowler too.” She then blushes and asks: “Is he married? Does he have girlfriends?
But the wizened, conventionalists are not too happy with him smiling. Mark has a piece of advice for Bumrah: “Tell him not to smile so often. Real men don’t. Real fast bowlers don’t. Have you seen Curtly Ambrose smile? Or Andy Roberts or Malcolm Marshall. Patrick (Patterson) wouldn’t even smile at his grandmother.”
However, Bumrah, he says, has left him floored. “I don’t remember any fast-bowler other than our old boys who is thrilling to watch. Well, his action is strange, but what he does with the ball is spectacular. He’s getting them bowled and lbw, which is the true sign of a genuine fast bowler,” he says.
At dusk, just outside the Sabina Park entrance, a bunch of teens is trying to imitate Bumrah’s action, the hyper-extended arm-roll. Each time they attempt, they end up bending their elbows. “Hell, how does he do it?” They move on to his run-up. They stutter. As they say, he can’t be copied, least of all replicated.
It’s something that has piqued most laymen spectators as well as experts the world around. One of the teens has an answer ready up his sleeve: “I think he has an iron rod inside his arm. So he can’t bend.” Another is convinced he’s chucking. “You can’t bowl like that man. Is he an alien or something?’ But such dissections are not an obsession or reeking of scepticism, rather a passing remark.
“Yeah, we love aggressive fast bowling, bowlers hitting batsmen on their head, arm and body. Is there anything more thrilling than the thrill of speed? That’s why we produced Holding and Bolt,” says Clement Joseph, a retired schoolteacher.
That’s also the reason they admire Bumrah. The sheer pace he generates. The aggression he exudes. The casualness he eases. “He’s always chill. Smiles at batsmen. Doesn’t sledge. Always walking without any tension. He’s like last-benchers in class, takes life easy, but tops the class. He’s very Caribbean,” he says, chuckling.