Wed. Jun 19th, 2024

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10-0-81-3. By Jasprit Bumrah’s standards, his bowling figures in Wednesday’s third ODI against Australia — the final dress rehearsal before the World Cup — were unremarkable. But if you want to know why he is the undisputed leader of India’s bowling attack, why his injury status during his year-long layoff was so closely tracked, and why a billion hearts pound with anxiety every time he grimaces with pain on the playing field, you only need to watch his third spell on Wednesday for the answers.

India's Jasprit Bumrah bowls during the third and final one-day international (ODI) cricket match between India and Australia(AFP) PREMIUM
India’s Jasprit Bumrah bowls during the third and final one-day international (ODI) cricket match between India and Australia(AFP)

The surface in Rajkot was a featherbed and the outfield akin to a billiards table, the ball speeding to the boundary every time it passed the 30-yard circle. The margin for error was minimal for the bowlers; a tad short and the square boundaries were peppered; a tad full and punishment straight down the ground was in store. Even Bumrah wasn’t spared, his first three overs costing 26 runs. When he was brought back in the 23rd over, the broad shoulders of Mitchell Marsh carted him for more. He had now conceded 51 runs in five overs, perhaps his first reminder since his comeback of the brutal realities of international cricket.

By the time Rohit Sharma tossed the ball again to Bumrah, Australia had cantered to 261/3 in 36 overs. Forget 350, the visitors were now eyeing a total closer to 400. But here’s where Bumrah showed he’s Bumrah. First, he outfoxed Alex Carey off the sixth ball of the 37th over, a slower off-cutter deceiving the left-hander into slicing the ball to Virat Kohli at cover. Next in his sight was Glenn Maxwell, carrying the threat of taking the game away in the blink of an eye. Off the final ball of his next over, came a peach of a yorker: fast, accurate and certainly too good for the Aussie to get a bat onto.

The delivery embodied the essence of Bumrah, his uncanny ability to conjure a wicket-taking delivery out of nowhere. Never mind what’s gone before.

Considering what had transpired till then, a fiery fist pump and perhaps even a few unedifying expletives in the heat of the moment may have been pardoned. But that would be uncharacteristic of Bumrah. He simply shrugged his shoulders and offered a hint of a smile, almost as if he was intending to say: “I know… I know I’m good.”

He finished by dismissing Marnus Labuschagne off the last ball of his final over, again a slower ball doing the trick. He had claimed three important wickets and conceded a mere 30 runs in his last five overs, integral in restricting the Aussies to 352/7 when they looked good for many more.

It was a fitting warm-up act before the real deal gets underway. Having hooped the ball both ways at will in the Asia Cup in Sri Lanka — though a small sample size, his average swing with the new Kookaburra in ODIs this year is 1.55 degrees (higher than ever before) — what was left was for him to reinforce ahead of the World Cup was his death-bowling prowess. That the 29-year-old, after back surgery and the excruciating agony of a year lost to injury, could stand up to pressure in the slog overs when the odds are stacked against the bowlers.

His display ensures he has ticked all the boxes before India’s World Cup opener against the Aussies in Chennai on October 8. “Jassi has been able to play a couple of games and bowl his quota of 10 overs,” India coach Rahul Dravid said of the positives from the series win against Australia.

Getting through the build-up

When the selectors announced Bumrah’s ODI return last month, the first hurdle for him to surmount was to get through the Asia Cup and the Australia series without discomfort. “He (Bumrah) has to start progressing slowly. That is very critical. He has to take it game by game. Rhythm has to be found in a progressive manner. He has to build it up gradually,” former Indian team trainer Ramji Srinivasan had said in an interview prior to his comeback.

That he’s done that and more — he has claimed eight wickets in 37 overs across six matches since his return — holds India in good stead. Especially on pitches as batting-friendly as the one in Rajkot, a bowler of Bumrah’s calibre can make all the difference. By delivering a deadly yorker that takes the surface out of the equation. By coming up with a cunning slower ball that entices the batter into a false stroke. By producing a vicious bouncer that the batter is late on.

Much like Zaheer Khan was for MS Dhoni in 2011 — the last time that the 50-over spectacle was held in the subcontinent — Bumrah will be the man that Sharma looks to whenever he senses that they are losing grip of the contest. “I’m pretty happy, more importantly how he (Bumrah) feels body-wise, he has got so much skill. How he feels mentally and body-wise is key for us and that’s looking good for us,” Sharma said on Wednesday.

If Bumrah can deliver to the extent Zaheer did 12 years ago — the left-arm pacer claimed 21 scalps to finish as the joint highest wicket-taker of the tournament — he will end up scripting a truly remarkable comeback chapter.

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