It is human nature to impute the reasonably unfathomable to the realms of the occult. The superlatives that every Jasprit Bumrah spectacle generates are understandable. The monikers, sorcerer, magician, and enigma are just feeble mortal attempts to explain the devastating effects of that stuttering run-up, the gentle tilt of the head, the unwieldy load-up and the backbreaking release, after which the ball seems to obey the whims of its master.
Except that, sometimes, it doesn’t and yet does its trick, heightening the batter’s stupefaction. Twice in the ongoing Test series, England captain Ben Stokes, who is on a mission to disrupt the strictures of the purest form of the game, has been left shell-shocked by Bumrah’s craft.
“That was the only delivery when I tried to bowl the out-swinger, but the ball didn’t swing and went straight. Probably, he would have seen the shine and thought the ball would go out, but it went straight, and he got bowled,” Bumrah said, succinctly explaining Stokes’ reaction to his dismissal in the first innings of the second Test.
In the first Test, Stokes was left equally bemused after Bumrah’s yorker had him in two minds before crashing into his stumps. The skipper could only offer a wry smile, and Bumrah returned the favour with a glint in his eye.
Though Stokes was undone by the ball’s somewhat mutinous trajectory in Visakhapatnam, the dismissals that preceded it were imbued with absolute mastery of craft.
Arguably England’s best batter ever, Joe Root, was pushed against the wall and turned into a victim of his own mind. With Root constantly shaping for the inswinging delivery, Bumrah got one to reverse the other way and exact the outside edge, getting the former England skipper for the eighth time in Tests.
“You know it’s coming at 90-plus mph; you know it is going to reverse, you don’t know which way it is going, you are thinking ‘when shall I move, when shall I get my triggers in?’, and he is stuttering his way into you, it must be a complete and utter nightmare. It is proving to be a nightmare for Joe Root,” Nasser Hussain said on Sky Sports Cricket Podcast, perfectly summing up the turmoil in a batter’s head as Bumrah steams in.
Soon after Root let out a small grunt of frustration after edging the ball in the slip cordon, Ollie Pope was left sprawling in his crease, his middle and leg stump spreadeagled across the turf. That would soon become the image of the Test match and of Bumrah’s artifice, even relegating Pope’s 196 in Hyderabad to the vaults of memory.
“At that time, the ball was relatively hard, and yes, there was some reverse swing, as I said. In reverse swing, you don’t have to bowl magical deliveries every ball. I had bowled a few away-going deliveries, then I was thinking about what to bowl. Should I bowl a length delivery coming in or should I go for a yorker? I had not bowled a yorker till then, so I thought I might as well take a chance. It did swing a lot, the execution was good,” Bumrah said gleefully after his best figures of six for 45 at home.
‘Going back to First-Class cricket’
In press conferences, Bumrah seems to enjoy describing the details of his one-upmanship with batters rather than delving into rating his best spells in descending order. It is perhaps in keeping with someone who has done the hard yards and for whom, as the cliched phrase goes, ‘the journey is more enjoyable than the destination’. After all, by his own admission, his journey to the pinnacle of world fast-bowling merits a lot of credit.
“In First-Class cricket, if you want to take wickets in India, you have to learn to bowl reverse swing. I probably learned to bowl the reverse swing before the conventional swing because you play a lot of cricket on slow wickets, so you have to find a way… I started my journey in South Africa, so I have some experience. Here [in India] I have played less number of Test matches, but a lot of First-Class cricket. So, I go back to First-Class cricket and think about what has worked for me,” he says.
Besides the sheer enthralling optics of watching Bumrah bowl, which the crowd at Visakhapatnam couldn’t get enough of, are his mind-boggling numbers at home.
Acing the number game
He averages a stunning 13.06 in six Tests in India following his nine-wicket haul in Visakhapatnam and is the leading wicket-taker of the ongoing series, with 15 scalps at just over 10 runs per wicket.
And yet, though the stats attract awe and mystique and force you to re-check the filters you applied to obtain them, the context of Bumrah’s success trumps all number-crunching.
Be it in the first innings in Visakhapatnam, where he left ‘Bazball’ gasping for air and turned the match on its head in a span of half a session, or in Hyderabad, where he picked six wickets while no other pacer even got one, or against Pakistan at the World Cup, or Oval 2021, or, most recently, the out-of-the-blue slower delivery to Ben Foakes in the second innings that decisively sealed England’s fate, the list goes on.
In Bumrah, India has found a free-spirited renegade who defies conditions, conventions, and the laws of physics, and in a country besotted with its pantheon of batting superstars, he emerges as a refreshing paragon of the subtler skill of seam bowling.
The adulation was on display in the port city of Visakhapatnam, where chants of ‘ Boom, Boom, Bumrah!’ resonated like a tidal wave enveloping the stadium. The loudest cheers were reserved for Bumrah, when he came on to bowl or bat, or even when he took a couple of trudging steps to the crease to send down a volley of warm-up deliveries.
Such is the fate of magicians. Their slightest sleight of hand can stir up a storm.