Ollie Pope had become one of the biggest threats for Rohit Sharma and co since his match-winning innings, last week. It was amongst the best innings played by an English batter in Indian conditions. The anticipation of what he was going to pull off in the second Test at Visakhapatnam was high.
Pope – who was the leading run-getter of the series so far – had looked confident and unfussed during his 55-ball stay on the crease in the first innings and was making matters worse for India who were already trailing 1-0 in the series.
But all it took was one trick from Jasprit Bumrah to bring an end to all of that.
The crisp sound of the searing inswinger landing on the stumps, the middle stump lying flat on the ground and leg stump sent cartwheeling simply by the sheer impact and Pope’s back hunched over like he was caught in a nasty game of Twister – it was bound to be talked about.
The camera panned on to his non-striking partner Jonny Bairstow on the other end, chewing gum as if to process what on earth just happened. It’s understandable because, Bumrah demands a kind of hypervigilance yet, the six deliveries you ought to face him require a kind of nonchalance to pass the test.
Bumrah finished with figures of 9/91 in the match as India beat England by 106 runs to level the series 1-1.
Bumrah has a “let’s get on to business” aura around him. He doesn’t talk big, does not have an overtly in-your-face body language, does not have the explosiveness of an aggressive fast bowler or wild celebrations. But he has something that supersedes all of that – the skillset.
As a result, it is no surprise that Pope’s dismissal was a sight that legendary fast-bowler and the original yorker specialist Waqar Younis termed “Bumrah’s magic.”
Behind Bumrah’s magic
Bumrah’s process is a result of introspection and a lot of finesse over the years but his strength – the yorker – now comes very naturally to him.
“As a youngster, that is the first delivery I learned. I had seen the legends of the game Waqar [Younis], Wasim [Akram] and even Zaheer Khan deliver those yorkers,” said Bumrah, the player of the match, in the post-match presentation.
“As a kid, I used to feel that is the only way to take wickets so that is the first delivery I learnt. I kept it with me, using it to my advantage and now, even in Test cricket when you get wickets off it, it feels great.”
In the six Test matches he has played in India, the 30-year-old has taken 36 wickets at an incredible strike rate of 29.5 and average of 13.06.
On a rather placid pitch that saw other Indian bowlers take 11 wickets for 433 runs in the match, Bumrah picked up a staggering 9/91. However, it appears that the bowler believes that comparison is the thief of joy and so the statistics around him are not as thrilling.
“As a youngster I did that and it made me excited,” said Bumrah. “If you think about numbers, there’s anyway a lot of pressure playing for India and if you take that added baggage, it doesn’t really help. So, I’m very happy that we won and when you contribute towards that success, it feels even better.”
Yet, Bumrah believes that he does not want to be a “one trick pony” and hence, the situation and wicket in question demands exploring options beyond his very effective yorker.
The Pope dismissal was memorable but Bumrah had handed India two other crucial breakthroughs on the final two days of the Test. He trapped Jonny Bairstow leg before wicket in the last over before lunch, and then he broke an eighth wicket partnership by catching Ben Foakes off his own bowling.
However, it was the dismissal of Ben Stokes in the first innings that was the other highlight of the bowling display by Bumrah – one that went beyond his yorker magic.
On the cusp of taking his 150th wicket, with Stokes looking set for a half-century, Bumrah delivered a cutter that nipped just the right amount, stayed low and travelled beneath the bat. As Stokes’s off-stump flicked and the bails flew, his bat dropped with an expression, almost as if suggesting, “This is unfair. How do you expect me to play that?”
In response, Bumrah just stood with his arms wide open and a beaming smile, soaking in the compliment wrapped in Stokes’s reaction.
Bumrah, Anderson shine amongst spin-loaded attacks
Ahead of the second Test, there was uncertainty around the kind of pitch that the curator would dish out, considering India’s dismal performance in the first Test. It had become increasingly clear that a three-pronged spin attack with just one pacer was the way to go for both teams even if it wasn’t a rank turner.
For England, rookies Shoaib Bashir, Rehan Ahmed and last match’s star Tom Hartley all put up a good show and went toe to toe with the Indian spin trio of R Ashwin, Axar Patel and Kuldeep Yadav.
However, even on this pitch, it was the seamers who stood out. The performance of Bumrah and the ageless James Anderson, the first-choice seamers for their respective teams, was the highlight even amongst spin-loaded bowling attacks and a double century and a century.
England were kept in the game by Anderson, who claimed five wickets in two innings and put up a tireless show, bowling 35 overs in the match.
“You look at [James] Anderson and the way that Jasprit Bumrah bowled this week. You are watching two incredible bowlers,” said Stokes, who was on the receiving end of that delivery but was floored by Bumrah’s skills. “Jasprit is obviously on the opposing side, but sometimes you just have to hold your hands up and say, ‘What a player.’”
With the series levelled at 1-1 and three more matches to go, there is an appetite for more fast-bowling exhibitions. Anderson, a veteran of the game, has done it over time and against several counterparts and must feel a sense of accomplishment and security both.
Bumrah is a phenomenon especially at home but faces tough competition from the experienced Anderson. However, it does not make him feel like he needs to pull up his socks or take the pressure of doing something extraordinary.
“Before a cricketer, I'm a fast bowling fan. I never really enjoyed watching any other thing. It doesn’t matter if it is anybody from the other team, I always keep an eye,” said Bumrah about Anderson’s performance in the Test. “If somebody's doing well, kudos to them.”
For years under the captaincy of Virat Kohli, the fast-bowling in matches involving India became a subject of discussion. In Mohammed Shami’s absence and in a phase of transition, that aspect of the game was placed on the back burner for a while.
As two fast-bowlers, secure in their experience and skills, continue to put their respective team ahead of them in what promises to be a riveting series, there is scope for some revision.
Even as spin and standout batting performances continue to dominate the discourse, Bumrah’s magic is compelling enough call the lovers of fast-bowling back into the discussion.