Jasprit Bumrah © AFP
Jasprit Bumrah © AFP

Well over a decade ago, South Africa used to have a blend of Shaun Pollock’s straight-arm and Makhaya Ntini’s away-from-stumps actions. Both could move the ball off the deck both ways. India, too, had a bowling duo of similar dynamics. Venkatesh Prasad bowled as well as celebrated in a straight line, and Javagal Srinath’s action at times allowed him to stretch his front arm in the direction of second slip, but he was nowhere close to Ntini’s peculiar and hard-to-master pace-bowling mechanisms. These combinations are deceitful for the batsmen. From adjusting the mark to changing the stance, adapting against different release points can disrupt a batsman’s concentration.

The slingshot Bumrah

Jasprit Bumrah and Ntini have similar presentations, but the former is blessed with a twisted arm. There is more to it: Ntini had a proper jump, while Bumrah skids at the time of a delivery. To cut it short, their actions add tasteful variety to a bowling line-up.

Bumrah was added to the limited-overs setup for his understanding of the game than the rarity of his bowling style. He knows how to read the batsman’s footwork, a trait that is often overlooked. Above all, seldom does he succumb to pressure. There is a reason he bowls well at the death. Those toe-crushing yorkers are not his only weapon: Bumrah is successful for more reasons than his accuracy.

Let’s talk stats and facts now. Bumrah is the second-quickest Indian to 50 ODI wickets and is already the second-highest Indian wicket-taker in T20Is. He was the Player of the Series for ODI leg of India’s tour of Sri Lanka in 2017 and against New Zealand at home in the same format. He attained all this in a span of 22 months in international cricket.

Bumrah’s test stretches to the longest format

India have five pacers in the squad for Tests in South Africa: Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, and Bumrah. Ishant is the seniormost bowler. Believe it or not, but he is a veteran of 79 Tests.

Umesh is often Kohli’s first choice for his express pace. Shami more or less falls in the same bracket, but his tendency to swing puts him ahead in Kohli’s list. Then there is the ever-improving Bhuvi. Not to forget that Hardik Pandya, a fast-bowling all-rounder, is in the squad as well. Hence, the question beckons: do India need Bumrah’s services? To fan the fire, he replaced the Chinaman bowler Kuldeep Yadav.

Ishant is no more the pace spearhead. He was benched on India’s tour of Sri Lanka earlier this year. Shami and Umesh did the job for Kohli with Pandya as the third pacer. Shami, too, can’t spearhead: his tryst with injuries continue. Umesh is not much of a leader.

That leaves Bhuvi, who too did not play a Test in Sri Lanka, who was added in the playing XI for the green-layered Kolkata Test. He finished with 8 wickets and went on a leave to get married. Unfortunately, Shami picked up an injury. India had to summon Ishant from Ranji Trophy, coupling him with Umesh. The chopping and changing continued in the third Test. India dropped Umesh to replace the fit-again Shami. Ishant, who was the last choice of all, retained his place.

If all five pacers are in the best of their health, what pace attack will India form? Shami, the most venomous of the lot, will play. Bhuvi has been on song of late. It would be a sin to ignore him. Ishant has toured South Africa twice but his average reads in 40s there. Umesh has played 36 Tests but can leak runs in abundance if he is off-colour.

On a seamer-friendly, bouncy wicket, India are likely to play a solitary spinner along with Pandya and three pacers. Shami and Bhuvi have sealed their berths. Will Bumrah be the third pacer?

The recipe

Add Bumrah to the recipe that already has an amalgamation of Bhuvi’s swing and Shami’s wicket-taking abilities.

Bhuvi can bowl from close as well as away from the stumps. He is technically perfect. Shami delivers with a round arm: he produces, as they call it these days, a contrast swing — the ball comes in before pitching but goes away after, or vice versa.

Bumrah can hit the deck, hurl yorkers, and fox batters with change in pace. More importantly, he is armed with a slingshot action. There is very little that he cannot execute. Moreover, he is an intelligent cricketer, something — to put it honestly — is probably not the most obvious trait people notice in Ishant or Umesh.

Bumrah can be the Ntini India needs. Bhuvi can be Pollock. And Shami, the kind of fast bowler every team envies. The recipe seems mouth-watering, but it depends on what Virat Kohli and the team management dish out.