Updated: August 27, 2019 2:41:08 pm
With an outswinger of laser-tipped precision, Jasprit Bumrah nails West Indies opener Kraigg Brathwaite to inflict the first blow, the ball moving away a shade and brushing the outside of the defensive bat. There are four more to come, more eye-catching dismissals, stumps flying, as his furious opening spell of 8-4-7-5 triggers a collapse and helps India register a 318-run win in the first Test of their Caribbean series.
On Sunday, not many notice it. But Bumrah is whipping up this storm from the Andy Roberts End. And looking on, is the legendary West Indian fast bowler himself. The Brathwaite dismissal has his nod of approval: “Perfect length. You can’t get better than his. The chap is very good. He is hitting the right areas straightaway. Not too many do that…” Now 68, Roberts is usually reserved in his judgement of people, and not someone prone to flattery.
In the next over, Bumrah’s inswinger rips through the forward defence of left-handed John Campbell. And Roberts, the quiet mean-machine, is excited, his muscular hands repeatedly retracing the trajectory of the delivery, curling away from Campbell and bending into him. “That’s a brute. You can’t do anything against. Just bad luck. Was the kind of ball Michael (Holding) used to bowl back in our days. And later Malcolm Marshall. This is a serious ball and can get the best batsmen out,” he says.
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As much as the deviation off the surface — in North Sound, it was as benign as they would come — Roberts is impressed by the pace of Bumrah’s delivery. “It’s the pace that catches my eyes first. I wouldn’t say pace is the biggest asset of a fast bowler but I would say it’s the most valuable one. If you have pace, batsmen fear you, because, at the back of the mind, they are thinking of safety, how to avoid being hit. You can mix the pace and fool them.
And if you can swing the ball at his pace, nothing like it. Such bowlers thrill you,” he says. And Bumrah “does this brilliantly”, says Roberts. “They say batsmen have become soft. I would say the bowlers have, too. They don’t attack the batsmen, they wait for them to make a mistake. They keep bowling outside the off-stump, tempting them to make mistakes. It’s not the way we did it. We made them play at each ball. Bumrah doesn’t waste a single delivery. Fast bowling takes a lot of energy and if you waste a ball, you lose a lot of energy,” he says.
Now, Roberts is inquisitive about how the Indian developed his action. “It’s the strangest action that I have seen on a cricket field. I need to study that for a longer time to understand the mechanics of his action. But if he were born here back in our days, we would have had him. A freak was the only element missing in our bowling line-up. In fact, Bumrah is the only variety of bowler we had never produced. Then I don’t think even India would produce one like him again,” he says.
He’s even a touch bemused as to how India could produce such an outrageously talented fast bowler. “In my time, it was all spin. Good ones, but they wouldn’t win you matches overseas. India had Kapil Dev and some others, but we never thought they could produce someone as lethal as Bumrah. He’s the best Indian fast bowler I have seen,” says Roberts.
The admiration for Bumrah runs throughout the Caribbean, which was for four decades the fast-bowling factory of the world. Their global dominance from the late 70s to the early 90s was built on their ceaseless production line of world-class bowlers, capable of intimidation as much as nuance — from Roberts and Michael Holding to Malcolm Marshall and Joel Garner, and later Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh.
“At times, he rekindles memories of our prime. The pace, aggression, the hostility, the craft. The way he outclasses the batsmen, the way he out-thinks them. He could have been one of us, he’s so complete a bowler that he could have played in any era,” says Ambrose.
Another fast bowler, Winston Benjamin, is in awe. “I feel sorry for the West Indies batsmen, they could have done nothing against him. Whenever I see him, on TV or live, I wonder how he does it. He’s slippery, deceptive, and unique. He could be the best in the world,” he says.
The West Indian spectators agree, too. They are behind Bumrah, urging him to “knock’em (batsmen) out”. Every now and again, the DJ would fish out a retro Hindi song: “This one for Bumrah, our man!”
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