It is at times a bit perplexing to look at India’s bowling line-ups across formats. Ishant Sharma, R Ashwin and Mohammed Shami are the Test specialists, even though Shami has improved his ODI record of late. Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Yuzvendra Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav (though, he isn’t making the cut anywhere now) and a host of other bowlers are your limited-overs specialists. The only one who makes the cut consistently across formats is Jasprit Bumrah.

Now each format requires a different skillset; a different length even. Most experts reckon that in Test matches you need consistency. Nothing flashy, but the ability to consistently bowl the ball in the right areas for long periods of time; the ability to play on the batsman’s patience without losing your own. It’s harder than one might imagine.

In ODIs, the bowlers are called upon to initially make the most of the conditions and the new ball before settling into a line that doesn’t allow the batsmen to take too many liberties.

In T20s and even shorter formats like The Hundred and T10, the bowler will move into death over mode from ball one. Each ball has an even greater value in these slam-bang versions. And it can understandably be quite challenging to traverse successfully across formats but former India pacer Zaheer Khan doesn’t make too much of it.

In his prime, the left-arm pacer had the rare ability of being able to think batsmen out. As his career progressed, he lost the searing pace he possessed in his youth but replaced it with old-ball wizardry that reminded many of Wasim Akram. To Zaheer, the question of different formats invariably is one of mental adjustment.

“I think the mental adjustment is a vital component of moving from one format to another, like, you know, be it Test matches to ODI to T20 to something as short as T10,” Zaheer Khan told on the sidelines of an event organised by T10 Abu Dhabi in Mumbai. “I think as a cricketer, you kind of move with the formula of playing that particular format. For each format, you have certain parameters, which most of the teams are following.”

Zaheer added: “So in T10, which is a very condensed format of cricket, the whole dynamic from the start is a very back-end sort of approach with the new ball. So that’s a mental adjustment a bowler needs to make. A batsman has no time to get in and the bowler has to be zoned in from the first delivery. As the format is getting shrunk, every delivery… every ball has a greater value attached to it. So while you may already have the skills, I feel it is the operational aspect or the mental aspect which needs to change and it’s not a very hard thing for anyone to adjust to.”

While some like Bumrah have gone from the shorter formats to Test cricket, Zaheer is a firm believer in Test cricketers finding it easier to adjust if they have to.

“A player who is playing Test cricket can be more effective across formats. I think Tests have been and will always remain that highest level of cricket because you have to prove yourself in all aspects of the game. And if you can prove yourself in all aspects of the game, then to condense it is always an easy process”

And, while many reckon that the shorter formats are tailor-made for batsmen, Zaheer also feels a good bowler is perhaps worth his weight in gold in T20 or T10 cricket.

“I think the value of bowlers has, in fact, gone up with shorter formats. Yes, it is a batsman’s game, but in any format you play, you always talk about bowlers winning you matches. So if as a bowler, you can have that kind of impact on flatter tracks or when the challenge is the highest, your value goes up and that’s what we’ve seen in the shorter format.

“You’ve seen it as the shorter format has evolved, the number of pure bowlers – the ones who are able to control the batsman when they’re really going after you – has really gone up. If I have to give the example of IPL, you will see that when it started in 2008, most teams thought that they needed to have batsmen who could hit fours and sixes. But it quickly changed to them needing bowlers who could get wickets at any stage of the game, who could bowl in the death and take wickets with the new ball too. Because at the end of the day, taking wickets changes the whole complexion of the game, and if as a bowler you have that ability you are going to be very valuable for any team,” Zaheer said

So what makes a bowler good in the shorter formats?

“I think the ability to be able to bowl in any situation is something that is very important in a shorter format. The captain should be able to hand over the ball to you at any stage in the game. Like you’ve seen in the shorter formats that a lot of spinners also open the bowling, so as a bowler, you should be able to adapt to these changes and if you are able to bowl in any situation, it’s always handy. So that’s something I think the shorter formats have brought to the game, it is for the players to be flexible and not be stuck to a number while batting or a position while bowling,” said the former India paceman.

Focus on India

It suddenly looks like India’s fast-bowling stocks have never been higher. The batting led by Virat Kohli is good but it is the bowling that is winning matches and they are winning these games away from home as well. But has India just got lucky or is there a proper system in place now?

Kohli has spoken about how India got lucky with Bumrah in the past but there is now a steady flow of pacers from the junior levels to the senior team.

“I think it just the process which has been evolving. I think the exposure and access to knowledge has increased, so that has clearly had an effect on how bowlers are bowling so quick regularly. It’s a process which if you go decade by decade, you will find that cricket in India is getting more and more professional. A lot more time and energy has gone in terms of research, development and the approach to training has changed too, the methods have been evolving and that will have a positive impact on how the game is played.”

And just as Zaheer was once the inspiration to many young Indian bowlers, we now have Bumrah slipping into that role almost nonchalantly. The numbers mark him out as a once-in-a-generation talent. In ODIs, he has picked up 103 wickets from 58 games at an average of 21.88 and an economy rate of 4.49; in T20Is, 51 wickets at an economy rate of 6.71 in 42 games. And in Tests, despite playing just 12 matches, he has already taken 62 wickets at an average of 19.24.

So what exactly makes Bumrah special?

“Well, I think he has that awkward action and he generates a lot of pace with that short run-up. It surprises batsmen. And I’ve always been endorsing the fact that if he’s able to get the ball going away from the right-handers [which Bumrah did do in the West Indies], his success rate will go to another level. This is going to make it even more tougher for batsmen to face him because he does deliver the ball from an awkward angle which is making him a bit more deceptive than the other bowlers. That is what is giving him the edge. If he can stay fit, he has a very bright future ahead of him.”

But Zaheer thinks it is important for Bumrah to keep playing as much cricket as possible. That is when his true evolution will take place.

“He has got all the attributes which fast bowlers should have but he needs to keep an open eye in terms of understanding and going deeper and deeper into the game. There is no substitute to playing more matches.”