Three months after his last international outing, Jasprit Bumrah re-emerged at the nets in Vizag ahead of the second ODI last week after a stress-fracture-induced lay-off. Without looking remotely rusty, he sent down a searing bouncer that had Mayank Agarwal hustling for evasive action. Rishabh Pant dug out a yorker that curled into his toes. Nothing of his 20-minute burst was recorded, but word went around that Bumrah’s comeback was imminent. The selection meeting for the T20Is against Sri Lanka and ODIs versus Australia here only confirmed it: Bumrah is back.
When an influential player returns, a wave of relief sweeps through the Indian cricket fraternity. In case of Bumrah, the delight is two-fold. A: Stress fractures can prove to be career-threatening, but in this case it wasn’t. B: Bumrah was terribly missed, especially in the shorter versions during death overs. Victories in his absence have been less straightforward.
Not that the West Indies fully capitalised his non-attendence, but they did give Kohli and Co a lot of agony. The Indian captain missed the new-ball wrecker, the middle-order enforcer and the death-over destroyer, whose services were indispensable in the World Cup earlier this year. Irrespective of the match-situation or opposition, Bumrah reciprocated Kohli’s call.
In India’s World Cup opener against South Africa, he ensnared Hashim Amla and Quinto de Kock with the new ball and his last three overs leaked only 16 runs. He detonated the lower-order against Sri Lanka and stalled Afghanistan’s stroll in the middle overs, when he removed the established Rahmat Khan and Hashmatullah Shahidi in the space of two balls.
Not to discount the penultimate over, wherein he conceded only five runs, leaving Afghanistan to scale the impossible in Mohammad Shami’s last over.
Likewise, he nipped Bangladesh’s chase from blossoming with a three-wicket spell. When he was not scything through the lower-order, he was busy limiting the damage. Like his 4-0-25-0 against New Zealand in the semifinal.
Even in the matches that his colleagues dimmed, Bumrah shone brightly. Like against England. India gave away 92 in the last 10, but Bumrah could be eked out for only 25 runs in five overs. He conceded just one boundary. After a point of futile swipes and heaves, England batsmen were happy smuggling singles and doubles.
World Cup dream
In the context, the numbers had the lustre of gold. Thus, as much as the dreamy spell of Rohit Sharma, it was Bumrah’s gifts that fuelled the great World Cup dream. Forget freebies, like the yorker-gone-awry full toss or bouncer gone too short, Bumrah doesn’t give length for leg-side heaves or width for slashes.
Fancy scoops and dabs are also ill-advised when facing the bowler with the unusual action.
It’s an understatement to say that Kohli missed Bumrah. Not that his fast-bowling armoury is unskilled — Shami and Bhuvneshwar Kumar are canny purveyors themselves — but they don’t have the Bumrah’s variety or sharpness.
The two series against West Indies were a case in point. In the five Bumrah-less games, the average opening partnership has been 60.
In the World Cup, it was 36.8 in 9, the average considerably lifted by the 160 England openers had allianced. And it wasn’t like the surfaces in England allied swing and seam like it used to in the olden days — Bumrah has transcended pitch-conditions long ago. In fact, he could harness the dew on the surface to benefit him.
The extra skid that dew entails would have made him deadlier.
So, you would trust Bumrah to hurry the batsmen in Chepauk as much as he would in Cape Town.
The Chepauk ODI against the West Indies was when Bumrah’s absence stuck out like a sore thumb.
After Sunil Ambris’s exit, Shimron Hetmyer and Shai Hope soaked in the pressure and accelerated without embracing any risks whatsoever. It was plain maths and percentage cricket, choosing your bowlers and moments to attack. There was no Bumrah for early punches or to counter-punch.
When Hetmyer eventually got out, West Indies were still far from the shore of safety, requiring 58 off 11 overs. A tight over there, a wicket here, West Indies could have imploded.
Instead, they romped home with two overs to spare. The nine overs since his exit were shared by Kuldeep Yadav, Shivam Dube, Deepak Chahar and Shami. They conceded 4 (2), 26 (3), 16 (2) and 15 (2) respectively. That Kohli was forced to use four different bowlers in this span is a telling indication of his dilemma at the death.
With Bumrah bowling from one end, he could have bothered about his accomplice from the other end. Here, the Indian captain was worried about both ends. Dube is naive, Chahar inept (at the death) and Shami prone to be erratic.
The confusion continued to haunt him through the rest of the series. It didn’t matter much after the Kuldeep Yadav hat-trick in the one-sided Vizag encounter.
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But from 210/8, West Indies managed to reach 280. In the last 10 overs, India still bled 81 runs. Besides Kuldeep, Shardul Thakur, Shami, Ravindra Jadeja, Chahar and even Shreyas Iyer chimed in, but none could stem the flow of runs. The total was too steep to be expensive.
It nearly proved expensive in the Cuttack decider, wherein Kieron Pollard’s turbo-charge enabled them to ransack 110 runs in the last 10. Again, Kohli was confused (more than unclear) about his death-over bowlers.
Kuldeep, Navdeep Saini, Shami and Thakur had a crack at the West Indies, but they all returned with hideous figures of 23 (2), 36 (3), 34 (3) and 25 (2) respectively. At the end of the innings, when Kohli walked back to the pavilion, he looked worried.
Looking ahead, will 2020 see Bumrah of 2019? To go by the word-of-mouth account of those that watched him at the nets in Vizag, or the responses of Agarwal and Pant, both batters in fine fettle, Bumrah is back.
India Squad (T20Is against Sri Lanka): Virat Kohli (captain), Shikhar Dhawan, KL Rahul, Shreyas Iyer, Rishabh Pant (wk), Ravindra Jadeja, Shivam Dube, Yuzvendra Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah, Navdeep Saini, Shardul Thakur, Manish Pandey, Washington Sundar, Sanju Samson.
India Squad (ODI vs Australia): Virat Kohli (captain), Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul, Shreyas Iyer, Manish Pandey, Rishabh Pant (wk), Kedar Jadhav, Shivam Dube, Ravindra Jadeja, Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Navdeep Saini, Shardul Thakur, Jasprit Bumrah.
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