Ahead of the third Test, sitting in the pre-match conference, Virat Kohli bore a serious look. 2-0 down, with a raft of changes to make and a bid to overturn the series, it would have made any captain solemn. His face lit up at the mention of one name though – Jasprit Bumrah.
“Very excited with Jasprit getting fit again. He’s an attacking bowler who bowls good lines and lengths. He’s very consistent in hitting the areas that are required at the Test level. He showed that in South Africa already and he’s one guy who’s really aggressive in mind. He wants to take the situation front on and basically make the batsmen feel uncomfortable. That’s been his biggest strength and he relishes the challenge whenever given an opportunity. We are very excited he’s coming back. He’s obviously a quality bowler and it’s great to have someone like that in the park,” he said, beaming a smile seen for the first time in two weeks.
Bumrah’s return made for some wonderment. He hadn’t bowled in anger since June 27, when he injured the left thumb against Ireland in Dublin. Mid-series, there is no possibility of getting game time, so you could only assume that Bumrah was rusty. Did it make sense to push him into this Test with series on the line?
Time and again, Kohli has specified that this India team – and its management – do not think like people on the other side of boundary ropes. For an outsider, Umesh Yadav would have been the go-to man – he can move both the old and new balls as well as bowl with pace. But he is not a match-winner. He is not consistent enough in attacking the stumps at all times.
Bumrah is, and that’s why the team management bet on him even if he was half rusty. It could be seen in the first innings, as he struggled to find a rhythm. He couldn’t find that sweet length, and he was still only working up his pace. Yet, there were signs that the rust could clear off quickly. It was seen in the angle he created against Keaton Jennings, and nicked him off to the keeper.
“In white-ball cricket, you try to outsmart the batsmen. In Test cricket, it is all about patience and consistency. You just cannot blast the batsmen out,” said Bumrah, after picking his second five-wicket haul in Tests at Trent Bridge on Tuesday.
The real Bumrah stood up in the next innings a day later, particularly with the second new ball. Three wickets in the space of eight balls broke England’s resistance, and their lower order, underlining why Bumrah is so good with the new ball. But that is a trait borrowed from limited-overs’ cricket – we already know he could do this.
Bumrah’s true utility – in terms of Test cricket – was seen in how he bowled to Joe Root in the second innings with a relatively older ball. This is where the attacking bit – as Kohli had mentioned – comes into prominence. Bumrah’s point of delivery, and the subsequent angle it created, confused Root. The difference between incoming deliveries and the one that held its line wasn’t being spotted, and the batsman finally nicked one behind.
Never mind the Jos Buttler-Ben Stokes partnership, from an English point of view Root’s dismissal was the moment all chances of securing a draw evaporated. Of course, he returned later to snare Buttler and Jonny Bairstow as well. It signified the team management’s faith in Bumrah – what seemed like an arrow shot in the dark, in near desperation, turned out to be a well-calculated move.
In marking a sensational return to Test cricket, Bumrah also highlighted India’s strength in the pace department. For ages, this team had to rely on one pace bowler, a pivotal point of the attack, be it Kapil Dev, Javagal Srinath or Zaheer Khan. It is an impossible task to calculate how much the lack of a healthy, collective pace attack cost India in terms of overseas victories.
The current bunch marks a departure from that norm. From Ishant Sharma, to Bhuvneshwar Kumar, to Mohammed Shami, to Umesh Yadav, and to Bumrah now, it represents a cultural shift in Indian cricket. Is this because of the Indian Premier League? Who knows, but that has surely further helped produce a battery of younger fast bowlers raring to go on the international stage. Or, maybe, those who administer Indian cricket finally woke up to the realization that world-class spinners cannot win you Test series in overseas conditions.
Whatever the reason may be, India’s pacers hunt in a pack in 2018. Of course, it has taken a while to come together, given their different starting points. But they have matured at the same time, almost fitting together as pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Unless England are able to solve it, this Test series might just turn on its head in Southampton and at the Oval.
Also by the author: