“I’ve come to see Umran Malik,” read a poster from one of the fans in the stands at the Wankhede Stadium during the match between Sunrisers Hyderabad and Gujarat Titans.
For a 22-year old uncapped Indian player, and more specifically a fast-bowler based out of an underrepresented Jammu, playing only in his eleventh match in the Indian Premier League, that must be the stuff of dreams.
Hell, there are people who have dedicated their lives to cricket and still don’t exude the power to become the kind of players that bring the spectators to the stadium and viewers to their television screens.
In the local Jammu & Kashmir circuits, he was known for his exploits with the tennis ball whilst playing for teams that wanted to threaten their opponents with his pace. Five years later, he continues to threaten the opposition with his pace but only this time, it is with the white-ball in his hand in one of the biggest cricket tournaments in the world.
Umran Malik’s bowling had been characterised by speed with batters being beaten by pure, raw, unplayable pace. Earlier in the tournament, Umran was collecting a rather inconsequential award nearly every match for bowling the fastest delivery of the day, ranging between 145-150 kmph, sometimes a little over that.
But as the matches progress, he has now started to bag the all-important player of the match awards which is a testament to the increasing precision that now accompanies his pace.
On Wednesday, during Sunrisers Hyderabad’s match against Gujarat Titans, Umran became the first-ever bowler to take the first five wickets to fall in an IPL innings.
Sunrisers may have lost the match due to a freakish innings from Titans’ Rashid Khan, but Umran became the first player this season to be awarded a player of the match award in a losing cause. After all, it isn’t often that a fast-bowler can boast of figures of 5/25 – the third best by an uncapped player in the IPL – where he has taken out the entire batting line-up with stump-rattling beauties.
“My job is to frighten the batters with pace,” Umran had said, after winning the player of the match award against the Punjab Kings during which he registered a four-wicket maiden in the final over of the innings.
That solitary over was only a glimpse of what was to follow.
Five-for to remember
In what was their second meeting with the Titans, Umran’s memorable spell began with Shubman Gill’s off-stump being rattled with a 144 kmph ball that he missed while attempting a cut. He followed it up with hurrying skipper Hardik Pandya with pace, bounce and well thought-out field placement.
As if the pace on the delivery to dismiss Gill wasn’t frightening enough, Umran subjected the well-set Wriddhiman Saha to a 152.8 kmph thunderbolt that crashed into his middle and leg stumps.
In the last over of his spell, one would have expected the pace to dip or for him to be content with all the frightening he had done so far, but he wasn’t done yet. There was more frightening left to do and more stumps to destroy.
His next victim was David Miller, who too was late to react to the pacy 147 kmph delivery that eventually rattled his middle pole. And then, to top it all up, to finish his spell on a high, he bowled another 146 kmph dart to Abhinav Manohar with his last delivery and ended with a five-wicket haul.
Making good progress
In the three games he played for the Sunrisers in 2021, it was clear they had unearthed someone special. However, as is the case with several uncapped bowlers, the finesse comes with experience and exposure to world-class players and coaching resources. There was some work to be done.
Since his first game in this edition of the league to the most recent match against GT, Umran is one of the most improved bowlers. He not only bettered his accuracy and wicket-taking deliveries, but also bettered his economy rate from 10.43 in his first four games to 5.81 in the following four games.
Irfan Pathan, who is among the few big names to have seen Umran and his team-mate Abdul Samad before they made their IPL debuts, spoke to Scroll.in about his first impression of the pacer and what made him memorable.
“The first time that I saw him, the first thing that struck me was his pace,” said Pathan. “But his bowling was erratic. Sometimes he would bowl full tosses in the nets, and when he used to hit the length, he used to go wide and the control was less. One reason for that was that he used to jump out a lot. I wanted to make sure he doesn’t do that so I suggested him to maybe change his run-up angle a little bit. When he did that, he was jumping out straighter and it is an ongoing process, but so far, so good and he’ll get better and better with the matches to go.”
Another factor that the increased accuracy can be attributed to is his time with SRH pace bowling coach Dale Steyn. In an interview to broadcasters Star Sports before the match against the Titans, Umran said he was focusing on bowling specifically according to the batters at the crease.
“Steyn advises me to bowl in good areas and according to the plan for the batter. When the plan is successful, he becomes very happy,” said Umran.
“I look at their videos before the match and work on that for a day. Then I figure out how he is playing and work on my yorkers, slower ball, bouncers and then leave it up to God on how I perform,” he added.
In the post-match presentation after the five-for against SRH, he brought up his preparation and plans again, “I always bowl fast but I’ve been trying to bowl better lines and lengths. The idea was to rotate between my plans. The ground (Wankhede Stadium) is slightly on the smaller side so the idea is to stay on the stumps, mix the pace and try to keep the ball within the stumps.”
Most pacers would relish the opportunity to work with the legend as Umran admits, but it’s safe to say that Steyn enjoys mentoring him too. During the match against the Kolkata Knight Riders, Steyn sprang from his Sunrisers Hyderabad dugout seat, fists clenched, celebrating Umran’s unplayable yorker to Shreyas Iyer.
Steyn said after that match: “I am kind of living through him, wishing I could do it.”
Cut to two matches later and after the dismissal of Saha, the camera panned on Steyn again, and he just smiled in acknowledgement this time, almost as if he was anticipating the perfect yorker.
When Simon Doull asked Umran about whether his next goal would be to clock 155 kmph on the speed gun, Umran nonchalantly said, “God willing, if I have to bowl 155 kph, I will do it one day. But at the moment, all I want to do is bowl well.”
The right-arm superfast bowler started becoming part of conversations because of his pace, but it seems that isn’t the only thing he’s going to be known for. Until then, we can rejoice in him emulating a celebration that is reminiscent of Steyn, who smiles away in the dug-out because he is indeed living through him.