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Friday, Nov 22, 2019

Newsmaker: The quick fix on the pitch

How Jasprit Bumrah’s action came to be and changed the landscape of Indian fast bowling.

cricket Updated: Sep 15, 2019 10:21 IST
Aditya Iyer
Aditya Iyer
Hindustan Times
Jasprit Bumrah’s action is made up of many idiosyncratic fragments, each a puzzle to everyone but him.
Jasprit Bumrah’s action is made up of many idiosyncratic fragments, each a puzzle to everyone but him.(AFP)

The compound between two buildings – Bombay-speak for middle-class apartment blocks – was our pitch. The parked cars were the fielders, the ground-floor window panes were umpires and match referees rolled into one.

The boxed-in patch of play was conducive not so much to spin as it was to a spinner’s run-up. The more eccentric the bowling action, the better. Only the enterprising ones were brave enough to imitate the quicks. The great Wasim Akram was preferred; not for his greatness but for his short run-up. But despite the lack of space and mostly because of it, one would often see one-step Shoaibs (the action beginning and ending with Akhtar’s flailing load-up and round-arm release), three-step Curtlys and, in one truly exceptional case, a little north of Bombay, the four-step Bumrah.

There’s a homogeneity to middle-class spaces in western India. In Ahmedabad, Jasprit Bumrah grew up in a colony of matchbox apartment-blocks called Goyal Intercity, fashioned after Bombay’s 20th century buildings. It was here that the most tangible part of the Bumrah legend was perfected – his incredible bowling action.

Perhaps predisposed by the colony’s tiny compounds, Bumrah’s heroes were quicks who bowled the ball arrow-straight and specifically those who could deliver the yorker at will – Waqar Younis, Lasith Malinga, Brett Lee. Often, young Bumrah did not have real toes to aim at. So he aimed for the intersection between wall and floor, toiling away in the longest corridor of his flat. His accuracy improved remarkably, as did his ability to rely wholly on the real-estate between his ears for feedback.

Plenty of fast bowling promises have been extinguished in India because the talent in question decided to not listen to his gut and instead seek the advice of one coach too many. The Gujarat that Bumrah grew up in lost two potential greats to excessive counselling – Irfan Pathan and Munaf Patel. But both Bumrah and his age-group mentors stayed strong and stuck by what was most unusual. Most crucial, for this is where the landscape of Indian fast bowling finally changed.

Bumrah’s greatness lies in his action and that action is made up of many idiosyncratic fragments – each part a perplexing puzzle to everyone but him. It begins with four uncertain skips, during which Bumrah clasps his palms in front of his chest, seemingly to protect the ball from the wobble. Here he breaks into a run of four hasty steps, with the suddenness of a resting train jerking into motion. And now comes the load-up, brought together with the rigidity of an Avengers action-figure.

Two ruler-straight arms point toward the batsman, before the right one lifts to the sky while the left one remains parallel to the pitch. If frozen here, at the peak of his jump, Bumrah looks like he is miming the hands of a clock – 3 o’clock for the fielder stationed at midwicket, 9 o’clock for the man in the covers. For the batsman, however, the clock’s hands have rung the alarm and it is time to wake up .

Since bursting on to the international scene and unleashing immediate terror in all three formats of the game, Bumrah has been thanked by Indian cricket fans via imitations of his highly imitable bowling action.

The imitation that flattered him most was by an old lady. She is presumably in her 70s and from the settee to the TV of her living room she speeds in like Bumrah, her hands clasped delicately around a plastic ball in front of her sari.

When the imitation video came to the fast bowler’s attention, Bumrah replied with four words that a country starved of fast bowling talent often exclaim at the end of his bowling spells: “This made my day”.


Bowled Over By Bumrah

  • Jasprit Bumrah is the third Indian after Harbhajan Singh and Irfan Pathan to claim a Test hat-trick. He dismissed Darren Bravo,
    Shamarh Brooks and Roston Chase during the second Test against West Indies at Kingston, Jamaica, on
    August 31.
  • Bumrah is the fastest, among Indian pacers, to have bagged 50 Test wickets. He crossed the milestone in his 11th Test, against the West Indies.
    Venkatesh Prasad and Mohammed Shami got to 50 wickets in 13 Tests.
  • Bumrah is the only Asian bowler to grab a five-wicket haul in Australia, England, South Africa and West Indies. He achieved this incredible feat despite having toured each of those countries just once.