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Why you gotta love Jasprit Bumrah

Bumrah is a send-off-free hero who is too smart to be a stereotype, too evolved to be just another swearing, pointing, glaring fast bowler

Jasprit Bumrah bowls during Day 3 of the third cricket Test match between Australia and India in Melbourne on 28 December.  Photo: William West/AFP
Jasprit Bumrah bowls during Day 3 of the third cricket Test match between Australia and India in Melbourne on 28 December. Photo: William West/AFP

You gotta love Jasprit Bumrah...

Because He’s Fast.

When Sourav Ganguly, captain of the greatest Indian Test side (no?), was late for the toss with Steve Waugh, I tried to explain Indian “time" and how it bends to my miffed Australian pals. Look, mate, there’s a word we have, “kal", which means yesterday and tomorrow. They reached for their beers in confusion.

But really in Kolkata, where I come from, life in the 1970-80s was unhurried. Even the tea seemed to brew more slowly. Babus slurped it and gravelly pondered every request as if it was an existential question. Trams rattled and wheezed, street-side bookshops were lingered at and the world was debated without conclusion at coffee shops. Bishen Singh Bedi turned his arm over at Eden Gardens like a man in a slow trance, Sunil Gavaskar batted time, Ramesh Krishnan’s serve took part of a day to cross the net and my dad wanted to take me to Alekhine Chess Club to watch carved pieces move.

So excuse me if I keep staring at the radar gun after each Bumrah delivery.

140kmh. 142.5. 148.

The ball spits, rears, interrogates. Batsmen evade, lurch, fear.

It’s a bit bloody late in life, but thank you God.

You gotta love Bumrah because...

He’s An Adult.

When he dismissed Peter Handscomb on Day 4 of the Sydney Test, he actually growled and I recoiled in smiling surprise. It was like Rafael Nadal chucking a racket. But maybe it was a good thing, else you might think Bumrah was just a choir boy with a science degree trying to work out issues of trajectory and air flow in public.

Bumrah is a send-off-free hero who is too smart to be a stereotype, too evolved to be just another swearing, pointing, glaring fast bowler. He doesn’t snort at batsmen for his deliveries do that sufficiently and he is wonderfully allergic to posturing. He slips one past the bat and smiles. He knows he’s made you look silly. He hits the pads, and keeper and slips appeal with vigour, and he says, “Naah, Not Out"... Then he smiles again. Indian cricket has had a lot of boys lately, but he isn’t one.

You gotta love Bumrah...

Because He Makes Things Happen.

When he holds the ball, I always find my chair, as if I’m attending a private concert. There’s no one else in the Indian team I do that for. Not even Kohli (sorry, mate).

There was a Messi pass floating on Twitter the other day, where he slides the ball past four Getafe defenders like a stiletto finding the tight space between ribs. The pass slips into the box, to Luis Suárez, perfect in weight, angle, speed, idea. Suárez doesn’t score and it made me think of Dhyan Chand, who once slipped a ball to K.D. Singh “Babu" and turned his back and later told Babu, “If you could not get a goal from that, you did not deserve to be on my team."

I watch Messi for this, like I did Shane Warne in the old days, a sort of anticipation and beckoning of the fantastic. Bumrah isn’t them yet, far from, for he’s only 10 Tests old and not even 50 ODIs and now he’s going to be stalked by his own growing legend, but there’s always this scent of possibility when he bowls. He looks like he’s thinking wicket. As if he’s in the midst of a coup whose plot we can’t see yet.

You Gotta Love Bumrah...

Because He’s Always At Batsmen.

In the old days when Roger Federer was in his prime, players would say the ball came too fast, from too many places, stuff they hadn’t seen (his backhand had multiple slices), in variations they didn’t know, with a precision they couldn’t fathom.

Bumrah doesn’t have this variety yet but his deliveries rear, dip, come in, go out, hurry, stop. He’s suffocating in his own way, imprisoning with his accuracy, asking questions as fast and intelligently as an interrogator from an Aaron Sorkin script, frustrating batsmen, making them hurry, giving no respite. Cruelty with a grin.

Anyone who has played any level of sport, who has felt the challenge of directing a cricket ball/golf shot/forehand to roughly the same spot twice in a row, understands the discipline, craft, commitment and repetition that results in control. There is a beauty to commanding a ball to do exactly what you imagine. At his best, Bumrah gives us that.

You Gotta Love Bumrah...

Because Of That Action.

We’ve all played against a kid like him in our youth. Or the one who didn’t move his left arm and just rolled his right arm over. Or the cack-handed hockey guy and the tennis fellow who chased his service toss. We used to laugh because we believed only in the classical. As if there was a set way for everything.

Of course, pure actions help and Federer’s effortless technique keeps him from injury. But there’s room for everyone, for individual expression, for open stance forehands, for John McEnroe serving while almost parallel to the baseline, for Jim Furyk’s oddball golf swing, for Usain Bolt’s over-long sprinting legs. Bumrah is a hero to every kid who can’t imitate the pictures in a teaching textbook.

Paul Pogba does a slow, small-step jog before a penalty and high jumpers hold up their arms, rock back, bounce, stride and follow a curved flight path to their ascent. Bumrah has his own style, some mix of walk, hop, skip, run, and maybe he gets a fraction-of-a-second advantage on batsmen for that’s the time they spend being hypnotized by his run-up and his unbent arms which resemble the arms on a fast-moving clock.

This is, you see, the time of Bumrah.

Rohit Brijnath is an assistant sports editor at The Straits Times, Singapore, and a co-author of Abhinav Bindra’s book, A Shot At History: My Obsessive Journey To Olympic Gold.

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