Krishnakumar’s message to ward Umran Malik: Swing the ball



A few years ago, Umran Malik, the Sunrisers Hyderabad, Jammu and Kashmir and India fast bowler, had said to this correspondent: “The batters were saying, ‘don’t bowl that fast’. But I had come to bowl fast, so I would bowl fast.” Here, Umran was referring to bowling to some reputed batters at the SRH nets. In a nutshell, the essence of Umran’s bowling is summoning quick spells on a consistent basis.

The first impression of Jammu and Kashmir’s bowling coach, P Krishnakumar, was no different. He witnessed a bowler who was geared up to bowl at rapid pace, not just in a match situation, but even while practicing at the nets. “He loves to bowl fast. He bowls with a lot of intensity. At the nets, as well, he bowls at 150 kph. With most of the bowlers, they don’t give their 100 per cent at the nets, not the case with Umran,” he told RevSportz.

Genuine pace is a God-given gift. But in the 2023 IPL, it became increasingly evident that a few pieces were missing from his bowling jigsaw. Perhaps he needed to supplement pace with improving his fast-bowling mentality? For Umran’s style of bowling, pace seemed to be synonymous with movement in the air. Also, by learning the finer points of the art, Umran could turn out to be a potent force with the new ball.

Krishnakumar looks at how he took it up as a challenge to ingrain the significance of swing bowling in Umran. “He had already played for India. So, he knows a lot of things, he has worked with a lot of fast bowlers, a lot of top coaches. I didn’t have to work on the skill part much. The main area which we worked on was his mindset.”

“He was bowling at 7-8 metre mark (his length), and that was on the shorter side. Not getting consistent swing. So, before joining the side, Mithun Minhas, who is the director of cricket at J & K, specifically asked me in the interview, ‘how would you make Umran swing the ball’? He gave me a challenge and I said, ‘give me some days, he will start doing it’,” he noted.

Krishnakumar went about his job of trying to inculcate certain truisms of pace bowling in Umran’s mind in an earnest manner. One of his innovative ideas was to share videos of some top pace bowlers to Umran in order to persuade the tearaway that conventional swing can be generated at good speeds. “I had to talk to him regularly. I had to convince him that if you pitch the ball up, you can swing it.”

“To change his mindset, I had to send a lot of videos, I think I have sent him almost 100 videos. I used to send videos of Dale Steyn, James Anderson (the younger version used to generate conventional swing at good pace), Mitchell Starc, Bumrah… all above 140, still they are able to swing the ball. In that way, I tried to change his mindset,” he observed.

What about Umran’s wrist position? Perhaps there was some tinkering to be done? Krishnakumar reiterated that it was more about refining Umran’s mindset rather than upgrading his skill. So, he went back to his method of sending videos of those who mastered the art of finding movement.

“His wrist position was good, but I had to tell him how to use the wrist. He was convinced with me that if you’re giving backspin on the ball, if you’re using the wrist at the time of release, it will swing. For that, I have shown a lot of videos of Anderson, how he swings the ball, how he does it. He started doing it at the nets, so I gave him consistent practice. Slowly and steadily, in one and a half months, he got convinced that if I pitch the ball up, I can swing the ball.  I’m sure that he will give better results,” he reckoned.

Krishnakumar’s strategy for even the shortest format belongs to the old adage – the best way to restrict the opponent is by taking wickets upfront. He has tried to imbibe that wisdom into J&K’s bowlers, including Umran. “The first tournament we played was the Syed Mushtaq Ali trophy. All or most of the bowlers, they were bowling quick. They had that mentality of how to stop the runs in T20 cricket. 

“What I told them was if you swing the ball, whether it is T20 cricket or four-day cricket, it is not easy for the batter to hit you. That is what happened in the Syed Mushtaq Ali. They were swinging the ball and we stopped all the teams (we played) from making good scores.”

That is in brief about bowling in the Powerplay. But the litmus test for a bowler in the abridged version of the game is to chart out a successful path in the slog overs. Every single bowler has come under severe pressure at the back-end of an innings. Just that some are better at coping with stress of bowling in the later stages of an innings. 

Krishnakumar quipped: “As a coach, I feel that the bowlers who bowl well in the end overs are the ones who don’t panic and that is very important. If you look at Sandeep Sharma or Bhuvneshwar Kumar, they are very calm, take their time and bowl the next ball. What happens is when the bowler starts panicking, they try too many different balls. What they want to do, it doesn’t happen.”

The discussion then veered back towards Umran. His detractors don’t just point to his lack of wickets in IPL 2023, but also his tendency to leak runs. To ram home the point, Umran’s economy rate was a whopping 10.85 in the last year’s tournament. Even when the fast bowler bagged 22 wickets in IPL 2022, his economy rate was on the higher side at 9.03. 

Just zoom in on some of those T20 matches in which Umran has partaken and one could observe that the batters scored a sizeable portion of the runs behind square on the off-side. Even Umran had once said to this writer after giving away 98 runs in a Vijay Hazare Trophy game: “The edges were going for fours and sixes.” 

Granted that the batters could end up using Umran’s pace to their advantage, but is there more to it? Maybe, it requires a little bit of adjustment in his alignment? Or is it something to do with the field settings? Krishnakumar clarified: “If you look at his action, he jumps a bit outside. So, his alignment was more towards outside the off-stump. I have somewhat tried to work on that. As he is now pitching the ball up, the ball is going more towards the covers or mid-off.”

“Earlier, what he did was he was bowling quick but outside the off-stump. Now, he is more on the stumps and his run-up is becoming better. Now, he is more balanced at the delivery stride and more accurate.”

A couple more questions crop up in the mind. How about operating at different gears in the longest format? The best in the business always seem to know when to ramp up the pace and when to bowl within himself. “One thing I specifically told him was about varying the pace, because he was bowling at 150 kph for six overs consistently.”

“Bowling at such high intensity for six overs is not easy, so he was getting slightly tight. What I told him was, ‘if you vary the pace, you will be able to bowl more overs in the four-day format’. In the T20 format, you have to bowl four overs, in one-day cricket, you have to bowl 10 overs. But in red-ball cricket, you have to bowl at least 20 overs against a good team and take five wickets. If you take wickets, you get selected. You won’t be selected only on the basis of pace, you need to take wickets,” he pointed out.

There is one more attribute that every bowler should possess – A big heart to bowl in different situations of the game, alongside being open to new ideas. Krishnakumar has nothing but praise for his protege on that count. “His work ethic is brilliant. He never says no to bowling. Even if it is 40 degrees, he used to bowl with full intensity. The best part is even after playing for India, he is very eager to learn and is a down to earth person. That is a very essential quality for any sportsperson. He is very coachable.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *