Test cricket is not for the meek. It is supposed to be difficult. It is supposed to test you. You need to play first-class cricket to understand it. You need experience. You need to get used to the grind — it isn’t bowling 4 overs or 10 overs. It is bowling or batting over after over and not letting the concentration dip. It takes time to come to grips with the longer format and the different wickets. Ask any Test cricketer and he will tell you it is all that.
But then you look at Jasprit Bumrah’s first year in Test cricket and wonder: what is all the fuss about?
On Friday, the fast bowler recorded figures of 6-33 at the MCG as Australia were bowled out for 151. They are the second best bowling figures by an Indian pacer in Tests in Australia. Only Kapil Dev with 8-106 at Adelaide in 1985 has done better.
By Sunday, he had added another three wickets to his kitty to finish with match figures of 9-86. He is the first Indian pacer to take 9 wickets in a Test match in Australia.
But just for a moment, cut back to South Africa when Kohli decided to give Bumrah his Test debut in the first Test on January 5, 2018. Many then were surprised that the 25-year-old played ahead of Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav… not because he wasn’t ready or that he didn’t have the potential. Most felt it was too early.
In the eyes of Virat Kohli, though, the moment was just right. Then, it looked like a snap decision but as soon as the selectors had named India’s squad on December 4, the Indian skipper had told Bumrah that he would be playing the first Test. He told him to get ready, to figure out his lines and more importantly the lengths for the longer format.
It was already evident that Bumrah was a smart individual. He had quickly become India’s go-to bowler in the shorter formats but few bowlers around the world have managed to succeed in all formats. It was a challenge and the then 24-year-old took it up without so much as a squeak. He wanted this.
Just wanting something though isn’t a guarantee of success. His first Test saw glimpses of what he could do as he ended up with bowling figures of 1-73 and 3-39. But still was he going to continue in the playing XI for the second Test at Centurion?
It was a difficult question to answer given that Ishant and Umesh were sitting on the bench. Proteas’ skipper Faf du Plessis added some fire to the mix when he said: “We didn’t think that Bumrah would have played,. We know that he’s done really well in one-day cricket but we were preparing more for the other seamers because they’ve played a lot of Tests.”
But then came the big surprise. At Centurion, India decided to drop Bhuvneshwar Kumar (who had taken 6 wickets at Cape Town) and bring Ishant back into the mix even as Bumrah kept his place in the XI. It was a decision that had a nation up in arms but the Indian skipper stood firmly in the young fast bowler’s corner.
Once again, Bumrah looked good decent while recording figures of 0-60 and 3-70. He had done enough to retain his place in the team but come the third Test, he claimed his first five-wicket haul.
His 5-54 in the first innings of the third Test at Johannesburg helped India bowl South Africa out for 194. It was a difficult wicket to bat on but Bumrah stuck to the job at hand without getting too excited.
The advice was to stick to basics in the bowler’s meeting: stick to disciplined lines and you will get wickets. And he did just that.
Over the course of his first year in Test cricket, Bumrah has established himself as a bowler who knows how to execute a plan. He doesn’t try too much but keeps adding enough variation to keep the batsmen guessing. And it was clear, he was learning on the job.
For some like former West Indies fast bowling legend Michael Holding, though, the England tour was going to be a big challenge for Bumrah because while the pitches in South Africa had pace, the ones in England would require him to pitch it up. As always, the question was: how would he cope?
An unfortunate injury meant he missed the two Tests but then he came back to claim a five-wicket haul in the third Test and ended up with 14 wickets at 25.92. Good stuff but it all seemed to be building up to this Australia tour.
He continued to learn on the job; he continued to get better and then we saw that ball to Shaun Marsh at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
It was the last ball before lunch and the batsman had batted with some assurance. But it was the set-up that made it special.
According to CricViz, each of the first 5 balls in Bumrah’s over was within 1.5kph of each other. That means they were all close to 140kph. Then, the final delivery was a 111kph slower-ball yorker. It was the only slower ball he has bowled in the series and it outfoxed the batsman.
The best bowlers don’t just rely on the conditions to dismiss the batsmen. They play mind games, they lay a trap and then they strike. Lillee would do that. Bedi would do that. Kapil Dev would do that. Ambrose would do that. Warne would do that. McGrath would do that. Kumble would do that. Muralitharan would do that. And Bumrah did just that too.
In this series, Bumrah has drawn an edge or a miss once every four deliveries. It is a crazy statistic that shows there is much more to him than his unusual action. Whenever Kohli wants something to happen, he just tosses the ball to Gujarat bowler and more often than not, he delivers.
Jasprit Bumrah in this series so far:
Bumrah now has 48 Test wickets in 2018 (at an average of 21.02). Only five Indian seamers have ever taken more wickets in a calendar year, and no one has done so at a lower average. He has also surpassed Dileep Doshi (40 wickets in 1979) to take the top spot in the list of most wickets taken by an Indian bowler in a debut calendar year.
As good as the other Indian bowlers have been in the recent past, Bumrah firmly established himself as the tip of the spear. The one most likely to strike first blood. The good part is that he can actually get better and that he is still learning.
When he got his fifth wicket, he was almost embarrassed to raise the ball. He did it eventually and he did it quickly. A thumbs up to the other side and back again to the top of his run-up. Given the manner in which he has conducted himself so far, he’ll know he’s just getting started. But for years to come, 2018 will be known as the year when Jasprit Bumrah announced himself to Test cricket in some style.
Note: Statistics have been updated after the end of the third Test at Melbourne