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Saturday, August 20, 2022

Jasprit Bumrah: Right arm fast and awesome

First, there was a small matter of a world-record looting of runs with the bat. Then he squeezed in the pressure with the ball to leave English gasping for breath.

India's Jasprit Bumrah celebrates after dismissing England's Ollie Pope (AP Photo/Rui Vieira)

Jasprit Bumrah: Right Arm Fast. The categorisation is oversimplifying Bumrah. He is many in one—a versatile new-ball merchant; an old-ball virtuoso, a seam artiste; supreme length-manipulator, an all-format freak of nature, a talisman and a matchwinner, an icon and an entertainer. On Saturday, he was all, more than all, and pure theatre too.

There are many reasons spectators flock to watch him in flesh or turn on the television when he is winding up that unique action of his. Apart from the sense of achievement that will grow with the years in just having been there the day that Bumrah did that, a desperation almost to be part of him in some tiny way, Bumrah brings something for everyone. For the masses, he gifts the visceral thrill of a supersonic fast bowler splaying stumps and blasting pads; for purists the joys of his fine subtleties; for the scientists the mechanics of his action; for the students of the game, a light of enlightenment; and for the spectators watching from the stands, a song for their tune, a rhythm for their beat.

If Bumrah does not make you fall in love with cricket, perhaps nothing this decade in cricket will.

He began the Super Saturday, exceeding his own powers to entertain. His 16- ball 31 was both pantomime and cult. He consigned Stuart Broad, he of the retro headband and 550 Test wickets, to another slice of cricketing ignominy—35 runs in an over, 31 runs from his bat. No one ever has scored as many runs in a single over in Tests as Bumrah had—not Rishabh Pant or Virender Sehwag; not Brian Lara or Viv Richards.

Using the word “score” to denote those 31 runs hardly does justice, or captures the essence, of those 31 runs. You could call it fluke, freak, or even farce, but it all embellished the entertainment package that Bumrah is. It would be one of the most chaotic overs ever in cricket—a top-edge four that just eluded the long-leg fielder, five wides, a top-edged six off a no ball, a French-cut four, a heave that ended him crashing onto the surface (ala Pant), a one-legged pulled six (ala Gordon Greenidge) and a comic single.

In the middle, Bumrah was rolling in laughter with partner Mohammed Siraj. So were his teammates in the dressing room. But to gauge the impact of his knock, however fortuitous it was, one just had to zoom into the face of Broad and his captain Ben Stokes. Broad looked as pale as someone trapped with a ghost in a Gothic castle; Stokes, for the first time since becoming captain, looked dazed, leaving to fate the passing of the storm.

Those 35 runs not only took India to 416, a target that seemed impossible when they were 100/5 at one stage, but also plausibly destroyed them psychologically. The last three had added 93, and the last pair 41 runs. It was not the first time that he had hurt England with the bat—the 34 not out at Lord’s and 24 at Oval were useful runs. Don’t yet call him an all-rounder though. Stokes blew his cheeks in relief when the partnership eventually ended, with James Anderson consuming Siraj for his 32nd five-wicket haul in Tests.

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Then kicked in the real storm. Bumrah with the new ball. His transformation from a goofball to an executioner. From Robin Williams to Al Pacino. He has bowled 6052 balls in Test cricket, before he steamed in from the Birmingham City End. Every stride, every movement, every quirk, every cell of his bowling body might have been dissected, yet he continues to be unmastered. There are batsmen who have played him well, but not mastered him. Joe Root has found success against India in the Bumrah-era, but Bumrah has nabbed him six times. He is a lesson that great bowlers could be decoded but not reined over. They find their ways, they plot their plot, sometimes resorting to the routine.

Just like Bumrah did Alex Lees. After softening him with away goers from over the stumps, he came around the stumps and slid one onto his stumps. Zak Crawley and Ollie Pope were ejected in the same fashion, nicked behind off flashing drives away from the body. He found more zip and nip than most English bowlers; suffocated and smothered them with pace, bounce and movement off the surface. So the sight, rather an illusion, of a loose ball lit up their eyes. England reeled to 44/3 before Root and Bairstow did the recovery acts before Siraj removed Joe Root.

But it was yet another day Bumrah ran the show, unpacking one role after the other. Bumrah: Right Arm Fast. All. More than all. Pure theatre.

First published on: 02-07-2022 at 11:53:20 pm
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