What does a skipper do when defending a middling rather than an imposing total? He would straightaway unleash his most potent bowler, which in the Mumbai Indians eleven, or even in the world, is Jasprit Bumrah. Only that Rohit Sharma has been repeatedly tearing up conventional manuals. It was not until the fifth over that he throws the ball to Bumrah. While the ploy prima facie comes across as defensive-minded, at closer scrutiny, it’s a shrewd strategy, at least with the gift of hindsight.
For, though Chennai Super Kings had lost Faf du Plessis, they had managed to gather some momentum in the 16-run Krunal Pandya over. So, probably, this was the ripe time to introduce Bumrah. Not only does it arrest the momentum, but, more pertinently, pose a considerable wicket-taking threat. On cue, CSK went on the defensive, eking out only five runs in that over. It’s a different story that Suresh Raina reversed the momentum, stroking Lasith Malinga for a brace of boundaries. But still, the relevance of the over grew in significance as the match progressed.
Bumrah’s next over was the 11th of the CSK innings; again soon after the fall of a wicket. With Suresh Raina departing, it was the perfect time to expose CSK’s vulnerable middle order, what with a jaded Ambati Rayudu striding in. Sensing the kill, almost mocking at him, Bumrah ratcheted up the hostility. He began with a length ball, darting into Watson, who despite soaking up 30 deliveries, somehow mustered a tentative defensive stroke. A single and Rayudu was on strike. Batsmen these days stay as far back as possible, their back foot almost hugging the stumps in anticipation of Burmah’s booming yorkers. Only that Bumrah has begun to counter-think the counter-ploy. Instead, he pinged a vicious bouncer that would have devoured Rayudu even if he were in the middle of his most plentiful season. And now, his morale down in the gallows, he could only feather a glove to the ‘keeper. Rayudu, out of sheer wishful thinking, had walked across so that he could cut (seriously!) him but was beaten for sheer pace and the extra lift Bumrah routinely procures.
Strangely, it has been a season wherein Bumrah has relied on short, brutish deliveries than his signature yorkers. In fact, not a single delivery landed in the yorker zone, not even in the good-length area. Maybe, he wants to be less predictable, but even if he is, his yorkers are still hard to squeeze runs off. Maybe, he wants to show the world his multifaceted skills, as if the world is unbeknownst to them. Maybe, he’s bored of the yorker-repetitiveness. But there’s no premise for quibble, as he has been equally devastating with the short balls. Bumrah peppered Watson and Co. with a barrage of fiendish short balls at the death, when the pendulum of the match was swinging towards CSK.
Such was the sustained aggro that even Watson wilted. He skied a catch – which would have won Mumbai the match without the thrilling climax – that slipped through Rahul Chahar’s fingers. Bumrah just kept smiling at the young culprit – it’s a gift of Bumrah to keep smiling even if his effort had gone futile. In his next over, wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock let four byes through his gloves, as the ball wobbled (due to the backspin he generates) as it approached him. In between the two slip-ups, he stoked up rage and fire.
Preempting that the batsmen would look to back away and target the vacant covers, he followed them. Bravo, somehow, managed to squirt a single. Watson was beaten to the cut before he copped a blow on the mid-riff. The burly Australian grimaced in pain, even as Bumrah stood with an apologetic smile. As if being physically tortured wasn’t enough, he was mentally disintegrating him with that disarming smile. A bye and a stealthy single, and Bumrah 17th over had brought Mumbai back into the game.
Even in his last over, he resisted the yorker-temptation. Rather, the short-of-length torment resumed, and inevitably, Bravo perished, showing no less bravado in trying to smack him through the leg-side. Watson, well into his 70s, had eschewed any hope of finding boundaries off Bumrah, rather content picking twos with some scary running. Such was Bumrah’s menace that even wheedling out twos seemed like an achievement off his bowling. And even if the last ball leaked four runs, Bumrah had almost single-handedly sparked hopes of an unlikely win, thus ending a tournament wherein he has been a silent enforcer, impacting games not with rattling yorkers but with subtler tricks, with wickets as much as reputation, and in a discreet way showing the virtues of back-of-length bowling.
And while all the Mumbai Indian players had converged to lift Lasitha Maliga, who delivered a vintage last over, Bumrah just kept smiling at the madness swirling around him, with the captain’s arms firmly wrapped around him. Winning the fourth title would have been inconceivable without Bumrah’s smarts. He has let Rohit tear up captaincy manuals and afforded him the luxury to think differently.