Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Amid India's batting galaxy, Jasprit Bumrah emerges as the lone bowling star

On Wednesday, after his player-of-the-match performance against England in the second Test at Vizag, the pacer earned the top spot in the ICC Men's Test Bowling Rankings, the first Indian fast bowler to achieve this feat

Published: Feb 8, 2024 06:17:22 PM IST
Updated: Feb 8, 2024 06:32:38 PM IST

Amid India's batting galaxy, Jasprit Bumrah emerges as the lone bowling starIndia's Jasprit Bumrah shows a ball after taking 6 wickets at the end of England's inning during the second day of the second Test cricket match between India and England at the Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy Cricket Stadium in Visakhapatnam on February 3, 2024. Image: Dibyangshu Sarkar/ AFP

Ask any young cricketer in India who their role model is, and almost everyone would say, “Sachin, Virat or Dhoni”! From the initial days itself, India has produced quite a few batting heroes. Sunil Gavaskar. Sachin Tendulkar. Rahul Dravid. Virender Sehwag. Virat Kohli. The list is long.  

But how many such bowling stars has India seen? Maybe Bishan Singh Bedi, Anil Kumble, Harbhajan Singh and Ravichandran Ashwin—all spinners though. Kapil Dev seems to be the only sparkling name among pace bowlers, but again, he was an all-rounder.

So, who does the young generation look towards when it comes to fast bowling—a department where India has largely been lagging, hence one of the major reasons stopping them from becoming the numero uno cricket team in the world?

Till the recent past, one couldn’t think of anyone. But now there is a pace bowling hero—something that Indian cricket has long desired.  

Jasprit Bumrah, a 30-year-old fast bowler who is unique in many ways. Right from his bowling action to what he has achieved in his career so far, there is no match to it.

On Wednesday, after his player-of-the-match performance against England in the second Test at Vizag, Bumrah earned the top spot in the ICC Men’s Test Bowling Rankings, becoming the first Indian fast bowler to achieve this feat. The crowds in India have long been chanting ‘Sachin, Sachin’ and ‘Kohli, Kohli’, but in the Vizag Test, it was all about, “Boom, Boom, Bumrah”.

“One of the modern greats of the game,” is how renowned commentator Harsha Bhogle referred to Bumrah while announcing him as the Player of the Match. The crowd burst into a huge roar, but the man remained cool as ever.

“I don't look at numbers. As a youngster, I did that, and it made me excited. But now it is an added baggage,” said Bumrah nonchalantly as if he had done nothing.   

Despite having achieved so much already, Bumrah finds a way to remain grounded. In fact, after the match, he posted a story on Instagram, showing how no one is there to support you when you need it, but everyone comes in to congratulate when you do well. Fast bowlers are usually aggressive. They lose their cool on the ground easily. But Bumrah is completely opposite: Calm-headed and not-so-expressive yet highly skilled and efficient.  

He has always been like this: Working hard and staying away from the limelight. He was just five when he lost his father Jasbir Singh. It was his mother Dalijeet Singh, a school teacher, who raised him and his sister. The pacer started playing cricket in the car parking of a society where they lived in Ahmedabad.  

Bumrah’s passion for bowling was such that he would volunteer to bowl when all the other kids would fight for batting.  

“We used to take turns at batting; when one kid got out, another got the turn to bat, but Jasprit never wanted to bat. He would bowl and bowl for hours and hours,” Preet Mehta, Bumrah’s childhood friend, told The New Indian Express in 2019.

At 14, Bumrah realised he wanted to play cricket, but his mother was a bit reluctant. However, after some convincing, she sent him to an academy. Bumrah’s unorthodox bowling action made him stand out from the rest in no time. Everyone who saw him bowling—from the coaches to the batters—seemed clueless. 

Also read: How Jasprit Bumrah is bowling the brands over

His run-up was quite short and action too slingy, but the speed with which he bowled was staggering. However, despite the uniqueness, the Gujarat cricketer hardly got any chances in age-group cricket. He continued to work on his bowling and fitness.

In 2013, he finally earned a call-up to the senior Gujarat team for the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy—a prestigious Indian T20 domestic tournament. The right-arm pacer straightaway grabbed eyeballs with his bowling. He helped Gujarat win the title with a match-winning performance in the finals.  

He was soon picked by Mumbai Indians in the Indian Premier League (IPL). In the first match itself, the fast bowler introduced himself in style. He picked up three wickets against a star-studded Royal Challengers Bangalore, including the wicket of Kohli.

"It was the first time that I played in front of such a huge crowd, but I wasn't paying any attention to the crowd. The more you focus on the inside, the better it is," the then-19-year-old told broadcasters after the match.

His consistent performances in the IPL and domestic cricket led to his selection in the Indian team in 2016. He made his debut against Australia, first in ODIs and then in the T20Is. Bumrah just didn’t take wickets, but left batters bamboozled with his action and serious pace. His variations, especially the ‘yorker’, became the talk of the town.

Many people, though, thought Bumrah was white-ball material and might not succeed in Test cricket, owing to his unconventional bowling action. However, his brilliant bowling performances in the Ranji Trophy—India’s top multi-day domestic cricket tournament—forced selectors to give him a look at the red-ball format.

The star pacer finally made his Test debut against South Africa in 2018. He looked even better with the red ball, busting the myth that unorthodox bowlers can’t make it big in the longest format of the game.  

Also read: From Abhay Mangaldas To Jasprit Bumrah: People Who Shaped Ahmedabad - Part 2 

But before he could elevate his success chart further, he suffered a lower-back stress fracture in 2019, leaving him out of action for four months. Things again went back to normal. He was consistently bowling well across formats. But soon the workload got the better of him again in 2022. This time the implications only got worse. He tried making a comeback quite a few times, but the lower-back pulled him down every time.  

The wait stretched much longer than expected. Many people thought it was the end of the road for him since lower-back injuries are considered very dangerous, especially for a bowler with an unorthodox action.

Bumrah though wasn’t ready to give up so easily. He patiently went through the rehabilitation period and finally returned to the international field after almost a year in August 2023.  

“I am just the same guy (that I was 11 months ago). I always had a lot of belief,” he had to clarify on his return as people had doubts if he could be the same bowler again.

He proved it with a brilliant performance in the ICC World Cup 2023, where India finished as runners-up. His Test cricket return was even better as the pacer left everyone awestruck with his fierce bowling in all phases of the game despite having played no red-ball cricket in a long time.  

Among many factors that set Bumrah apart from the other bowlers is the ability to bowl well irrespective of the conditions and phases. Give him a pitch with no help from pacers, he will get wickets off yorkers or slower balls. Give him the new ball and he will swing it. Give him the old ball and he will reverse swing it. He is simply a complete package.  

So, it won’t take much time now when kids in India start saying they want to become Bumrah more than Tendulkar or Kohli. Or has it already begun?