Jasprit Bumrah is at the top of his mark and even the inebriated are paying close attention from the stands. During the innings break and inside the Indian dressing room, it would seemingly have been all gloom and doom—having been bowled out for 179 by New Zealand in the first of their two warm-up games to the World Cup. But out in the roofless terraces of the Oval, no one has left their seat. It is also a Saturday, the first day of a long weekend in England, and the sun is out and the beer is flowing and spilling, then flowing some more.
The warmth, the liquid, the holiday mirth—these are all but excuses to hang back after the premature end to the first innings. The real reason the Oval remains packed and alive even after the match has more or less died is because the Indian fast bowlers (specifically one Indian fast bowler) are yet to have their say. This spirit is best captured in a phrase heard often about the Oval during the innings break: “Bumrah chhe ne.” Which, in Gujarati, means: “But Bumrah is there, no.”
FULL COVERAGE OF ICC CRICKET WORLD CUP 2019
Bumrah is certainly there, and he is ready to bowl. But even before he does, he already embodies the same hope in the defence of a small total that Virat Kohli does in the face of a large chase.
His version of a run-up begins with a walk. Five slow steps break into a five-stride wobble—with the suddenness of a resting train jerking into motion—and already he has loaded up, with the same flexibility of a plastic action figure. Two ruler-straight arms point toward the batsman before the right one rotates over and shoots out the ball at New Zealand’s Martin Guptill. When it makes contact with Guptill’s dead bat there is an audible ‘tthuck’, like axe meeting wood. The fielders clap and the crowd chants his name (“Boom, Boom, Boomrah!”), but Bumrah is indifferent to his surroundings and is already walking back to his mark, wiping the sweat off his palms on his trousers.
The spectators don’t know it yet, but the next ball is going to be of some significance in hindsight. It is a quick, short-of-a-length ball with an innocuous end result. All Guptill did was climb over it and dab it square on the leg side for a single. But we now know that that single was one of only two runs Bumrah conceded all day over his four-over spell. Two balls later, he would dismiss Colin Munro, trapping him LBW with a yorker so perfect that the ball landed directly on the batsman’s toe. And in the last two overs of this spell, he would first tie down Kane Williamson and then the free-swinging Guptill to collect his back-to-back maidens.
There would be no more maidens because there were no more spells, for Kohli had seen enough. Akin to an engineer assured of his tests on a rocket before launch-day, Kohli took Bumrah off and never again brought him on. And he finished with the incredible figures of 4-2-2-1; an economy rate of 0.5, in case you missed it. When the spectators eventually left the stands, they left wondering if India could indeed have won that contest had Bumrah simply completed his quota of overs; the sincerest tilt of the cap to his never-say-die attitude and abilities.
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Bumrah, the 25-year-old boy with this peculiar, disjointed action and one who is yet to play in a 50-over World Cup, is already counted among the best fast bowlers India has ever produced. But he isn’t too many spells away from being bracketed among the best cricketers the country has ever seen too. It is an honour reserved primarily for India’s batsmen—to be expected to pull India out of every impossible situation and propel the team to victory.
Until not too long ago, that honour, and burden, was purely on Kohli’s batting. Now it is on Bumrah’s bowling shoulder too. As long as overs remain in his quota, and they usually do until the last two overs, no target is too small for the opposition. In both of Mumbai Indians’ IPL wins in the last three years, Bumrah bowled the penultimate over with few runs to defend, and in both finals his team won by 1 run.
Both those matches, the more recent one fresh in the memory from a fortnight ago, have ensured that the fans simply don’t give up until Bumrah has. And Bumrah doesn’t, not even in a warm-up match of no consequence whatsoever.
May 27, 2019 08:58 IST
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