Jasprit Bumrah says he is “really excited to perform” in the two Twenty20 Internationals against West Indies in Florida on August 27 and 28. He feels playing in the United States of America – where the senior Indian team will be venturing for the first time – will be a “great experience”. Bumrah is one of two members of the squad, alongside Mahendra Singh Dhoni, to fly from India to join the rest of their teammates who have made the trip over from the Caribbean.
Bumrah’s control and accuracy has fetched him 11 wickets in four One-Day Internationals and 24 wickets in 19 Twenty20 Internationals, and has been instrumental in India’s fairly successful run in white-ball cricket over the last eight months. He is currently the highest wicket-taker in T20Is in 2016 and is placed No. 2 in the ICC T20I rankings for bowlers.
India are scheduled to play 13 Tests, but just eight ODIs and three T20Is at home between September and March. As things stand now, Bumrah may feature in only 11 days of international cricket in a busy home season. So, is he ready for Test cricket?
“I obviously want to play all three formats,” Bumrah, who has 64 wickets in 18 first-class matches including three five-wicket hauls, tells Wisden India. “They say Test cricket is the real cricket, and that is where I would like to prove myself.”
Experts like Aaqib Javed and Robin Singh have argued that Bumrah’s unorthodox action makes him injury-prone, and that that automatically makes him an unlikely candidate for Test cricket, the very reason someone like Lasith Malinga had to quit the format early.
Bumrah too has had his brush with a breakdown. He sustained a left knee injury in 2014, but made a successful comeback in the 2015-16 domestic season, where he took 21 wickets in the Ranji Trophy and then topped the bowling charts in the Vijay Hazare Trophy to help Gujarat win the 50-over title. He is not concerned about what others have to say, and believes that as long as he is fit, his unorthodox action should not be a point of contention.
“I don’t like to be compared to other unconventional bowlers as there is a difference in my fitness and their fitness,” he says. “You tell me a bowler who doesn’t get injured. Bowlers who have perfect actions, even they get injured. If my performance is good, I don’t see any reason why I can’t play the longer format. If you are good enough, you can do well in any form, so you can’t label a bowler and say he should be limited to one particular format.”
Fitness has become an important parameter to judge whether a cricketer can be successful in all three formats. There have been a handful of fast bowlers from India who have started off bowling at close to 150 kph, but with time and injury, dropped down to 130 or less. Unorthodox bowlers have gone on to have successful careers, but only for a short stint. Few of these bowlers have had fruitful Test careers, and there is a scientific reason behind it.
“If you go to a normal bowler’s mechanic, when they are entering their delivery stride, there is eight times ground reaction force going through their front leg, which means if someone weighs 70kgs, there will be 560kgs of force running through in his front leg,” says Nitin Patel, formerly the physio of the Indian team. “Our body is not meant for that and then you are adding something as awkward mechanics to that, so obviously your body is meant to break down soon.”
“I don’t like to be compared to other unconventional bowlers as there is a difference in my fitness and their fitness. You tell me a bowler who doesn’t get injured. Bowlers who have perfect actions, even they get injured. If my performance is good, I don’t see any reason why I can’t play the longer format.”
Patel, who has worked with Bumrah at Mumbai Indians, agrees that it doesn’t really make sense to compare two different unorthodox bowlers with completely different levels of fitness. Bumrah started playing cricket when in standard six and in, his early days, used to imitate the bowling actions of Wasim Akram and Brett Lee. But after he was exposed to professional coaching, he ended up with an action that came naturally to him. This is exactly what Patel thinks will work for him in the near future.
“I think he is fit enough to have a long Test career, he has had this bowling action since his childhood. So he is well prepared and physically conditioned for Test matches,” says Patel. “There is something called neuromuscular adaptations and Bumrah’s body has adapted to this new bio mechanics.”
Patel also believes it’s important for Bumrah to have an annual fitness and training plan. It’s not just about how many overs he can bowl on a given day, but more about having a holistic perspective, which includes overall workload and recovery from injury. This is where it becomes important for the support staff to handle Bumrah with care.
As things stand, the Indian Test attack is well stocked with numerous pace options — Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav and Bhuvneshwar Kumar are the ones that figured in the West Indies Tests. Bumrah is well aware of the fierce competition for places in the Test team. “This tough competition will challenge me and all of us will try to prove ourselves better than each other,” says Bumrah. “If there is competition, it will surely bring out the best in me. I will work even harder; this competition will only benefit India.”
Bumrah got his first big break in 2013 when he was spotted by John Wright, the former India and Mumbai Indians coach, during the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy Twenty20 tournament. That was to be the turning point in his career, as he was signed by Mumbai the very next day. Bumrah went on to make his IPL debut before he played his first Ranji Trophy match, and took 3 for 32 on debut against Royal Challengers Bangalore including the wicket of Virat Kohli.
“The IPL did give me my first big platform,” admits Bumrah. “I got to work with (Shane) Bond and Malinga, who used to share their experiences with me and I used to follow them. I also tried to pick their brains and implement their suggestions.”
With an unusually complex slingy action, Bumrah has been consistently threatening the boots of the batsmen and the yorker is the major weapon in his arsenal. Bumrah caught everybody’s attention when he cleaned up Dhoni in a Vijay Hazare Trophy match, and was selected to the T20I squad for the very next tour, to Australia at the start of this year, though he was fast-tracked to international cricket by being handed an unexpected ODI debut.
Bumrah credits Malinga for polishing his yorker skills. “I used to play a lot of tennis-ball cricket and over there I only used to bowl yorkers, you can’t bowl length in tennis ball cricket. Once I came to IPL, Malinga taught me how to bowl it on a regular basis and also how to use it to my advantage,” reveals Bumrah. “Like Malinga, I used to try bowling yorkers to a pair of shoes; not necessarily just shoes, I used to keep a mark and try to hit that spot while bowling.”
Bumrah has successfully been able to implement his skills and learning in the international arena, where the captain looks no further than him when it comes to death bowling. “I used to bowl a lot in the death overs for Gujarat and Mumbai Indians, so now I enjoy bowling at the death overs for any team that I play. So, there is no such added pressure.”
There is no doubt that the yorker, the bouncer and other variations work for him in the shorter formats, and his unorthodox action only adds to that advantage. Ricky Ponting, the former Australia captain and current Mumbai Indians coach, and a few other cricketers have already called for his inclusion in the Test squad. Subroto Banerjee, the former Indian fast bowler, believes Bumrah has got the required skills to succeed in Test cricket, but feels he has to master the skill of being patient to get wickets in longer formats.
“It’s important for him to have control over length. He should have a plan for every batsman and be patient about the result. He must try to understand a batsmen’s mind. All this will be important for him to succeed in Test cricket,” he said. “Yes, he has done well in first-class matches but Test cricket is bit different, the quality of batsmen you bowl to is different, but given time, he will surely improve.”
Players like Malinga, Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Virender Sehwag have proved that you can be successful in international circuit with unorthodox ingredients. “People have only seen me bowling in shorter formats but I have also played Ranji matches and first-class cricket, and done well there,” points out Bumrah. “I do know how Test cricket works. I know I have to be patient and I think I can adapt to all formats.
“I will try to implement all the things that I have learnt till now in Test cricket. Then I can show everyone what I can do,” he said. “My action won’t play a bigger role in Test cricket, it’s more about bowling the right line and length for longer periods. My unconventional action will only help me for a shorter period, so it’s important for me to be consistent to have a long run.”
Bumrah will improve with time, but he knows that to excel in Test cricket, there is plenty of work ahead of him. Until then, we can sit back and watch him achieve success in the shorter formats.