Jasprit Bumrah puts on a show, hails Neeraj Chopra's golden exhibition
Perhaps the best indication that a moment so rare and great had occurred in the wider universe of Indian sport – beyond cricket, that is – was when the moment made itself palpable at the cricket itself on Saturday. Minutes after stumps on Day Four, Jasprit Bumrah arrived at the (virtual) press conference, after having put his side in a fabulous position to win the opening Test in Nottingham with a five-wicket haul in England’s second innings (nine wickets for the match).
That presser lasted three minutes, with one of those minutes spent asking and answering about Neeraj Chopra – the javelin thrower who gave India its first-ever track-and-field gold medal at the Olympics. To put the length of that press conference in perspective and with all due respect, even India’s fielding coaches or net bowlers on Test tours have far more minutes under the sun to explain their arts and achievements.
But not this Saturday, when a nation was gripped by the science of throwing and not bowling, and Bumrah understood that keenly, and so he said something about how “just participating in the Olympics is a big achievement” and that he is “proud of all the athletes who are there (in Tokyo) and whenever they achieve and whenever they represent the country it is a great sign”.
Here’s the thing: no more is the Indian athlete simply happy to “represent” or be an also-ran. And Bumrah knows that better than most, having revolutionised the art of fast bowling in Indian cricket and made himself relevant in all conditions – be it on the spinning tracks of India or the conducive pitches abroad. That relevance was put on a marquee at Trent Bridge on the penultimate day of this contest – a day that was most suited to batting in this start-stop-and-start-again Test.
“A lot of heavy rolling was also done on it (the Nottingham wicket), so it got a little slower (on Saturday). As soon as we bowled the fuller lengths it got a little easier (for the batsmen) than how it was in the first innings… The wicket has gotten a little better,” said Bumrah. Making matters worse than a fast-flattening pitch was the presence of Joe Root, the England captain once again metamorphosing into the last line of defence between his side and an easy Indian win in this calendar year.
On Saturday, Root even went on to score a hundred with no real support from the other end – with all of India’s pacers (and not just Bumrah) quick to snuff out starts. England’s No.3 Dom Sibley too got out for 28: a quintessential start. But he at least stayed at the crease long enough (133 balls) to allow an 89-run stand to blossom between him and Root, before it was cut short by the man of the hour.
Bumrah managed that with the classic fast bowling one-two – bowl a few balls in one direction before swiftly moving it in the opposite direction. A ball before Sibley got out in the 46th over, Bumrah had him awkwardly playing and missing at a ball that swung into him late. The next ball was floated well outside off-stump and Sibley’s eyes lit up. And then so did the smile on wicketkeeper Rishabh Pant’s face.
The Indian team has come to expect Bumrah to produce such moments of magic, precisely what was amiss when India played the World Test Championship final against New Zealand in Southampton. In that match in June, Bumrah had gone wicketless, and largely because of that the New Zealand tail had put on nearly a hundred runs in the first innings. No such luck with England this Saturday with centurion Root, Sam Curran and Stuart Broad dismissed in the space of 12 Bumrah balls to all but end the innings.
Asked what he had changed in his bowling since June and Bumrah said: “Not a lot of adjustments, to be very honest. Just mindset adjustments – like being in the moment, back my skill and not look at the end-result too much.” But thanks to Bumrah pulling on the blinders with regards to the end-result, his batsmen can see it very clearly as they go into the fifth and final day on Sunday.