A day before this Test match, Jasprit Bumrah and Rishabh Pant were in the middle of an engaging duel at the practice nets. On a devilishly dark practice wicket, Bumrah was searching for reverse swing with a worn-out ball. Pant played a couple of ferocious drives down the ground, and bantered: “Tu so raha hai kya?” Pant was breaching the universal caution code of fast bowlers: “Never needle a fast bowler.” Especially one who’s ever-smiling.
Provoked, but still smiling disarmingly, Bumrah picked up a shining new ball from a carton. He shortened his run-up, drawing a what’s-the-big-fuss response from Pant, and pounded in and literally cut Pant’s ego and technique into two halves.
It was the length that deceived him first, neither short nor full that his feet froze. Then the line, homing into his off-stump. Then the angle — he thought it was coming in with the angle, as Bumrah was bowling from around the stumps and wide off the crease— only that it tore off the seam fractionally. The third was his pace, for even if Pant belatedly realised that the ball was deviating away, he had no time to make the requisite adjustments. He hung the bat in the air, and the ball just kissed the shoulder of his blade.
Pant stared confusedly at the pitch, his eyes scratching the surface to find an inexistent crack. He found none. He realigned his guard, moving from middle and leg to middle and off, and began preempting the late movement. Bumrah pitched the ball exactly at the same spot, only that it came in with the angle. Pant smiled sheepishly, prompting the same question as he had asked Pant: “Tu so raha hai kya?” To not wreck his morale further, he shouted an SOS to Umesh Yadav.
All of Australia’s left-handers could empathise with Pant, for since Adelaide, they’ve been facing similar barrage from Bumrah. It’s a visual swamp — they get sucked into the around-the-stumps trajectory, the hyper-extension of the elbow and his release point, which’s is not as high as most other bowlers. They, like Pant. expect the deliveries to come into them. Most do, but some don’t, and that’s sufficient for doubts to encroach into the brain.
And the quirk with Bumrah is that they can’t just be wary of two deliveries, for he has a lethal yorker, bouncer and mixes up his length, can extract both seam movement and swing, depending on the nature of the strip and the condition of the ball.
The guaranteed method to score runs off him is to wait for loose deliveries, which he rarely bowls these days, substantiated by the fact that he has been the most economical of Indian seamers (2.21) in this series.
It doesn’t surprise the former Australian fast bowler Mitchell Johnson, who had seen quite a bit of him during his Mumbai Indians days. “Right from the first day I saw him, I thought he was someone special. For it’s very difficult to be fast, accurate, aggressive and still stem the flow of runs. He has been quite a matured, thinking bowler right from his early days,” he says.
Concurs Ishant Sharma, who put it in a rather funny way. “I don’t think he needs any improvement, all that took place during his domestic days. Now he’s a complete bowler.”
Ishant, from his own experience, would know how difficult it’s for the different dimensions of the fast-bowling art to gel into a wholesome product. At 25, and into just his eighth Test, he is much as matured as the 80-Test-old Ishant. Damien Fleming expressed it nicely during the commentary: “In just half a dozen Test matches, he has redrawn the hierarchy of the Indian pace-bowling department. In current form, he is their most potent weapon without any doubt. He seems a natural.”
Bumrah is a perfectionist, too — at the end of any net session you can see him still bowling, still nuancing, still experiment. In Adelaide, after putting in a long shift the day before, he was seen bowling at the nets when India was batting, trying the magic ball to the left-hander — pitching middle, hitting off. He, of course, hasn’t yet attempted the delivery in a match, maybe he’s too pragmatic a bowler to resist the lure of the magical.
Beyond a speck of doubt, he was India’s most penetrative bowler in this Test, sharp enough to take a wicket with every ball, only that he has just three to his name, and just one in the second innings.
In fact, more than one-fourth of his deliveries beat the batsman or brushed their edge (20 times he beat the batsman and five times he found their edge), still he purchased only a wicket, that of Harris, who he had beaten seven times, once struck him on the centre of his helmet, before trimming his off-stump in the second spell. Bumrah takes the fate on his chin. “Sometimes you bowl bad balls and get wickets. Today, I bowled well and didn’t get any. That’s part of the game,” he says. That — equanimity — the other shining trait of his.