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Bumrah’s numbers capture a befitting story: Wicket for every six runs scored off him, wicket every 14th ball he bowled

Spinners were expected to reap a harvest on a pitch tailormade for them, but Bumrah took the surface out of the equation, again.

Written by Sandip G | Bengaluru |
Updated: March 15, 2022 5:24:30 pm
India's Jasprit Bumrah celebrates the dismissal of Sri Lanka's Suranga Lakmal during the third day of the second cricket test match between India and Sri Lanka in Bengaluru, India, Monday, March 14, 2022. (AP Photo/Aijaz Rahi)

One of the most startling aspects about Jasprit Bumrah is how often it is his day. Or how often he twists the narrative; or how often he ends up as the protagonist.

He was not meant to be the bowling hero of the game after all. This was a textbook spinner’s track. India had three of them, three with glittering numbers themselves, three of them who could single-handedly demolish batting line-ups. Yet, somehow, it was Bumrah. Yet, somehow, it had to be Bumrah.

The numbers capture a befitting story, bereft of the visual thrill though. He bowled 19 overs, conceded 47 runs and picked eight wickets. That is, more specifically, a wicket for every six runs scored off him, wicket every 14th ball he bowled.

No one else picked up as many or took wickets at a better rate than him the whole match. Ravichandran Ashwin grabbed seven for eighty-five runs; Ravindra Jadeja and Axar Patel winked out only four for 121 runs. Not that they bowled terribly — in orchestrating the 238-run victory an hour into the second session of the day — but Bumrah just bowled better, so much better that the turner, when he operated, transformed into a lively surface assembled somewhere in Australia or South Africa. This is the recurring, oft-repeated theme of his career — seaming, swinging, turning, bouncing, dead, lively, akhada, paata, the nature of the wicket hardly matters when Bumrah blazes.

Great bowlers like Bumrah transcend pitches. As if he had made a clandestine pact with them. No one else swung or seamed as much; no one else made the ball bounce as steeply or make the pink ball cut as exaggeratedly as Bumrah. As much as he adjusts to the nature of pitch, he does not let it dictate his methods. As the pink ball swung when pitched fuller, he probed the fuller length more often under the lights. The late away movement he purchased in the first innings devoured Kusal Mendis and Lahiru Thirimanne. A scrambled-seam cutter induced an edge off Angelo Mathews on the first day.

A searing fullish nip-backer on Monday nailed Sri Lanaka’s lone warrior and centurion Dimuth Karunaratne, which precipitated their end at 208. He wiped the tail-enders either with bouncers or follow-up yorkers.

Often fast bowlers, on such tracks, subconsciously shackle them from bowling at full pelt. They just complete the ball-roughening formality. Or pray for cheap wickets, like targeting patches that could generate inconsistent bounce. But it’s where Bumrah — like other champion bowlers — differs. Not for him the cheap thrill of easy wickets.

It’s ironic to think that the day before the match, he talked about having to adjust to a different variety of ball, aligning the body clock, and changing perceptions. Seems like it was plain modesty. He hit his rhythm-less rhythm straightaway, and rarely bowled a loose ball that could be recollected.

The five-for in the first innings against Sri Lanka — his first at home and the first with the pink ball — might not be as eulogised as some of his spells overseas, given the fragility of their batting, and could even be forgotten soon. But the first innings spell of 10-4-25-5 was one of brutal intensity. An unrelenting torture for batsmen. A pure spectacle that had the crowd transfixed, as if they were watching a magician unfurling his tricks, one after the other. He performed the same old tricks — seam the ball in, shaped the ball away, purchased bounce, threaten both the ribs and toes of the batsmen, mix his pace up — but he conjures an impression or rather befittingly an illusion, that he is producing something new and rare every time he steps onto the pitch.

India’s Jasprit Bumrah, second left, greets Sri Lanka’s Suranga Lakmal after taking his wicket during the third day of the second cricket test match between India and Sri Lanka in Bengaluru, India, Monday, March 14, 2022. (AP Photo/Aijaz Rahi)

One among the greats

To repeat and never feel stale is a gift of elite sportsmen. Bumrah belongs there. Watching him is always a riot, cricket played out at an astonishing pitch of fluency and aggression, an otherworldly talent expressed right to its outer limits.

One could empathise with the Sri Lankan batsmen. One would fear for the mental scars Bumrah might have inflicted on them. They were just unfortunate that they ran into him, they would have rather been torched by the spinners than scorched by Bumrah. At least, they could have pouted an excuse — it was a turner and we could do nothing. But Bumrah leaves teams with no excuses. He leaves them scarred, sapped, and beyond it, soulless. Usually, he is rested for home games. But not this time, and how Sri Lanka would have wished India had stuck with the plan.

His five-for picking rate is also staggering. He has now one in every corner of the cricketing globe he has stepped onto, barring New Zealand (an aberration he has enough time to change). He has one in every seven innings, a rate comparable to the elites. Waqar Younis took five-for at the same rate, though he played twice as many Tests as Bumrah has. Dale Steyn belted one in every sixth game. The rate is all the more glittering because it has come at a time when India possesses the strongest fast-bowling firm in their history, and where exploits are likely to be shared more often than not.

There now is a glowing halo around Jasprit Bumrah. A circle of blazing light that refuses to desert his crew-cut crown. Frighteningly for batsmen all around the world, the halo just keeps burning brighter, consuming them in the raging fire he stokes. And on such days when one can’t stop him — and there are a lot of them — all you can do is admire him.

And to think that he has yet to reach his peak — God forbid the fury he would unleash on batsmen. But as the scale of his outsized talent becomes ever more striking, only one thing seems certain. This is – to a bizarrely disproportionate degree – Bumrah’s world. A world that Bumrah twists and bends to his will, a world where he often ends up as the protagonist. Even on a turner as blatant as Bengaluru was. How gutted the spinners would have felt!

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