Virat Kohli’s go-to man – Jasprit Bumrah

As a stunning game unfolded in Southampton on Saturday, a simple question started to emerge. Just when did Afghanistan start believing that they were in with a chance to cause a major upset in the history of cricket?

It couldn’t have been when Virat Kohli got out, albeit it was a seminal moment in the game. He was the only batsman who looked fluent on that surface against that bowling attack. Was it when MS DhoniKedar Jadhav’s partnership began to crawl? Was it when Afghanistan didn’t get carried away and maintained a vice-like grip on the scoring rate all through India’s death overs?

Was it when they restricted India to 224-8? Cynics amongst the Indian fans and media alike still wouldn’t give them a chance. Never mind the below-par score on a turning pitch – how could Afghanistan imagine beating India, right? This question doesn’t pertain to the Afghans’ fight, or even their spirit to come back from a shellacking against England. ALSO READ: From hell and back, Mohammed Shami marks World Cup opportunity with hat-trick

No, it deals with the simple confidence in the Indian camp – both on and off the field – that they could defend 225, even if it meant using all their prayers and might. And where was this belief rooted in? Their bowling attack, arguably the best in this 2019 World Cup, revolving around the top-ranked fast bowler in world cricket today. Jasprit Bumrah!  ALSO READ: Mahi bhai suggested to bowl a yorker, I did exactly that: Mohammed Shami

At present, Indian cricket has two certainties. First, Kohli will invariably score runs. His ODI template is a piece of perfection – rotate strike, pick up the odd boundary and in no time he reaches thirties. Then, it is about building the innings, whether through accumulation or attack.

The other, second, certainty pertains to Bumrah. He will take wickets – with the old ball and new, at the start, in the middle overs and at the death. He will also cut off runs, because he is never willing to pick wickets. He is only looking to squeeze the batsmen and choke the scoring, thus creating pressure. It is textbook T20 art – wickets will come when batsmen are denied runs. ALSO READ: I was unhappy with Dhoni-Jadhav partnership, it was very slow: Tendulkar

In a way, Bumrah is the Kohli of Indian bowling. The Men in Blue have boisterous fans across the world, and this World Cup has seen its fair share. While every player gets cheered, loudest of roars are reserved for Kohli and MS Dhoni. And Bumrah – he is every much the superstar as the other two. Chart his rise through different formats, and you will see he is at the zenith of his career already at this young age. Certainly, the rankings reflect it too.

Of course, his ascendancy coincides with the greatest fast bowling chapter in Indian cricket history. But, while he hunts in a pack in the longer format, in limited-overs’ cricket, Bumrah is nearly peerless. This is not to pull down Bhuvneshwar Kumar or Mohammad Shami, his current new ball partners, or others from the Test attack. Instead, it is to underline that they are regular pacers making a mark with red and white ball.

Bumrah, simply, is an irregular phenomenon.

It isn’t reflecting on his unique action anymore. Sure, it allows him to do things a normal-action perhaps might not – that extra burst of pace at delivery, clever changes in length at the last minute, darting slower balls and those accurate yorkers. As a summation of all this, Bumrah is so much more.

Often bowlers – pacers or spinners – are spoken as weapons in any captain’s arsenal. Bumrah, in the manner he is adaptable to different match situations, is no longer a weapon alone. In that sense, he is a complete arsenal by himself – someone the skipper can use at different times, most of all whenever he is desperate for a wicket. And Bumrah delivers – when was the last time an Indian skipper had such a fast bowler at his disposal?

Scan back through the pages, and Dhoni struggled with his bowling attacks, juggling between the likes of Ishant Sharma, Ashish Nehra and Munaf Patel. He had an ageing Zaheer Khan at the 2011 World Cup. Before that, Sourav Ganguly had a young Khan in 2003. Perhaps Kapil Dev was the last complete pacer before Bumrah in the annals of Indian ODI history, but the game’s requirements were vastly different four decades ago.

Kohli indeed is a lucky captain as such. He can deploy Bumrah at the start to keep the openers quiet and deliver early wickets, setting the stage for his spinners. He can bring him back in the middle overs, when the need is to break a partnership and the game situation demands a wicket or two.

He can then save Bumrah for the death, making it nearly impossible for the batsmen to score off him, and thus allowing enough breathing space for Shami to bowl the last over. And he delivers, every time – like on Saturday when the batting messed up, giving only a paltry score to defend.

India’s dependency on Bumrah has reached staggering levels – it would be a problem if he weren’t the best in the business.

Thankfully for India, and Kohli, he is.