How Bumrah makes cricket feel like chess played in bigger arena

Jasprit Bumrah and Rohit Sharma
Jasprit Bumrah and Rohit Sharma (PC: BCCI/X)

A few years ago, during a conversation with former Pakistan fast bowler Aaqib Javed, who also worked as Pakistan’s bowling coach, the technical side of Jasprit Bumrah’s bowling was in focus. Aaqib analysed Bumrah’s bowling – from his run-up to loading and landing, and delivery release. He explained how the Indian ace is a complete fast bowler.

“From run-up to release, Bumrah’s entire approach is completely linear, using his energy in a straight direction,” Aaqib had said. “It gives him more power. To me, he has got the best action in the business.”

It was remiss of us not to delve into how Bumrah’s brain works when he is bowling. For a bowler, a lot depends on reading the batsman’s mind and staying a step ahead. Nobody does it better than Bumrah. No one plans his dismissals better than he does. When Bumrah bowls, cricket becomes chess played in a bigger arena.

The way Bumrah set up Babar Azam during India’s T20 World Cup game against Pakistan on Sunday was brilliant. The way he outthought Mohammad Rizwan was fascinating. But before coming to those dismissals, pressing the rewind button to India’s home Test series against England earlier this year won’t be out of place.

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Jasprit Bumrah with his teammates
Jasprit Bumrah with his teammates (PC: BCCI/X)

The second Test of the five-match series was played in Vizag and the highlight of the game was how Bumrah castled Ollie Pope with a searing yorker – arguably the ball of the series. What slipped under the radar was how the fast bowler had set up Joe Root, England’s best batsman. He moved to a slightly wide line and gave a masterclass of using the crease and the angle. A couple of deliveries nibbled away and another couple came in. So, when Bumrah made one hold its line, Root was unsure, with the ball reversing. Against a lesser bowler, he would probably have left the delivery on line. But Bumrah forced Root to poke at it and he was out.

Cut to Bumrah’s delivery to Babar that rose off a length and straightened a bit after pitching. The Pakistan captain fell prey to a set-up, Bumrah bowling in the channel, making the ball rear and moving it both ways. That particular delivery, Babar thought, would be coming in and he dabbed at it. Bumrah, however, had fooled the batsman and Babar eventually realised it. But it was too late.

Rizwan tried to outsmart Bumrah, attempting to force the pace off the first ball of a new spell. The bowler was one step ahead. He preempted it, bowled fuller and used his fingers to impart backspin on the ball to breach Rizwan’s defence. It was intelligence personified. It felt like Magnus Carlsen outwitting his opponent on a chess board.

“He is a genius with the ball,” Rohit Sharma said at the post-match presentation. “Bumrah is going from strength to strength. I’m not going to talk too much about him. We want him to be in that kind of mindset till the end of this World Cup.”

Jasprit Bumrah after Rizwan's Wicket
Jasprit Bumrah after Rizwan’s Wicket (PC: BCCI/X)

When Bumrah bowls, fast bowling becomes music with a lightness of touch. It’s a combination of brain and brawn, interwoven in the rhythm of a sonata. Only recently, after a game in the IPL, former West Indies fast bowler Ian Bishop called Bumrah a “professor”, wanting to anoint him with a PhD. “If I could anoint Jasprit Bumrah with a fast bowling PHD, I would,” Bishop wrote on his X (the erstwhile Twitter) handle. “He is a terrific communicator, Knowledgeable & articulate. I’d then have him hold bowling lectures to young aspiring seam bowlers across the country at all levels. I wouldn’t wait until he retired.”

On Wednesday, India will play their next group match against the United States. The hosts have made a serious impression at this T20 World Cup, chasing down Canada’s 194 and getting the better of Pakistan in the Super Over. They are just one win away from reaching the Super Eights, although they need an upset of gigantic proportions to beat India. There’s a gulf in class and it’s unlikely to happen.

For India, with a Super Eights berth all but sealed, the game could be an opportunity to try a different combination at the top – Yashasvi Jaiswal pairing with Rohit and Virat Kohli coming in at No. 3. This is also an opportunity to give Kuldeep Yadav some game time ahead of the Caribbean leg of the tournament.

For the connoisseurs though, the game is another opportunity to watch Bumrah in action. The likes of Saurabh Netravalkar, the US medium-pacer, can get up close and personal with Bumrah and join his gurukul post-game to learn from the master.

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