Cricket fans who may have been busy last Saturday afternoon, and failed to catch the action of the second session of second day’s play between India and England, missed something incredibly special. Maybe as special as the fourth day’s play against Australia at Eden Gardens in 2001 when VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid were batting.
On a beautiful batting pitch in Vizag, the spell that Jasprit Bumrah produced to remove the classy Joe Root, in-form Ollie Pope and Jonny Bairstow was on par with some of the greatest spells of pace bowling that have been bowled in India in the last 40 years.
Match figures of 9-91 along with the Man of the Match award on a pitch that was supposed to help spinners went a long way in Bumrah becoming the No. 1 bowler in Tests in ICC rankings – the first Indian pacer to achieve the feat. The other three were Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Bishan Singh Bedi. Don’t forget he has already been No. 1 in ODIs and T20I!s, which only underlines the versatility and special skills of the 30-year-old.
Former England captain Nasser Hussain rightly said that there’s no shame in losing to “a genius”. The England batters hardly put a foot wrong. It didn’t have anything with Bazball imploding – it was just that the pace, movement and variation which Bumrah generated completely tilted the balance in India’s favour in the second Test. Post tea, England captain Ben Stokes’ reaction after being bowled by the Mumbai man said it all – “I don’t know how to deal with this”.
Bumrah has only played six Test matches in India, but his average at home on pitches which are not conducive for pace bowling is a ridiculous 13.6. Compare this to other Indian greats – Kapil Dev (26.49) and Zaheer Khan (35.87) – and you know what we’re talking about.
“Bumrah’s overall average is in the early 20s (20.19) and he has already got 150 plus wickets…We used to hear of such numbers from Malcolm Marshall or Richard Hadlee. This is phenomenal,” Lakshmipathy Balaji told TOI.
Balaji, the former Indian paceman, was Chennai Super Kings’ bowling coach for long and has seen Bumrah’s fantastic T20 spells for Mumbai Indians from close. But it’s Bumrah’s consistency in Test cricket that has left Balaji awestruck.
“The angle that Bumrah generates is god’s gift. Coming from wide of the stumps, the areas that he can bowl sometimes defies physics. It is Bumrah’s ability to take the pitch out of the equation that makes him so special…When we were growing up as cricketers, we used to see Wasim Akram or Waqar Younis do this, it feels good to see one of our own turning the tables on the world,” Balaji said.
When the wiry paceman burst into the scene in 2015, he was touted as the next Malinga. Given his unorthodox slinging action from a short run-up which created a lot of pressure on his shoulder and back, the popular notion was that a breakdown was not too far away.
Still it was Virat Kohli and Ravi Shastri who decided to use him in Tests abroad, a decision that went a long way in India becoming a feared touring teams in South Africa, England, New Zealand and Australia. But the inevitable did happen. Bumrah had a back stress fracture which kept him out of cricket for almost a year in 2022-23.
On his return, Bumrah once again proved he is one of a kind. Balaji, who himself suffered a back-injury at his peak that made him half the bowler that he was, said: “Bumrah’s form on his return from injury is something similar to Dennis Lillee’s. The Aussie great, who also suffered a serious back injury (in the late 1970s), but came back as a matured and far more potent bowler. Bumrah is doing just that. He hasn’t lost his pace which hasn’t diminished his fear factor. I can tell you from experience to do this is incredibly difficult.”
In four Tests he’s played since his return, Bumrah’s average reads 11.66!
If it wasn’t for Bumrah, India might well have lost the Test series in South Africa at the turn of the year and would have been 2-0 down against England who have come well prepared for spin. But Bumrah’s genius is truly out of syllabus. It is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future, provided his body holds.