“He is a quick learner” | “He grasps things quickly” | “He is a disciplined boy" | “He is a hard worker” | “Right from his teenage days, he always wanted to hit the stumps” | “Boom, Boom, Bumrah... even in junior cricket” | “We, as coaches, didn’t want to change his action”
The things that I got to hear about Jasprit Bumrah when I spoke to various people associated with the Indian speedster in Ahmedabad.
Most of us have seen ‘Boom Boom Bumrah’ on the field, but Kumar R Mehta, who resides at Goyal Intercity Society in Ahmedabad, still remembers the Bumrah who used to drink water after sending down a few yorkers while playing gully cricket in the sprawling grounds of the society.
Bumrah grew up in a society with 800-odd families comprising nearly 4000 people and still lives there.
“Everyday boys used to come to drink water to my home... many times Bumrah also came to my home asking for water. When he was 10 or 11 years, I watched him play cricket quite a few times but I didn’t know it was Jasprit Bumrah, who would go on to be the star of Indian cricket,” Kumar told Sportskeeda.
Coaches at the Gujarat Cricket Association, who are part of Bumrah’s journey, such as Vijay Patel, Hitesh Majmudar, Kalpesh Patdiwala, say that they “never even thought” about altering Bumrah’s unique action at the junior level. It was all about ensuring Bumrah’s action remained ‘Bumrahisque’.
Bumrah’s India and Gujarat teammate Axar Patel said that he was ‘Boom Boom’ even at the U19 level and that some of his own teammates from Gujarat “didn’t want to face” Bumrah in the nets!
But this story is about this Indian cricket team’s best student - Jasprit Bumrah, the quick learner.
As a teenager, Bumrah was “always fascinated” at the sight of stumps flying around, says Patdiwala. “He always wanted to bowl yorkers and see the stumps rattled,” Patdiwala said.
Every single person whom I spoke to about Bumrah said: “He works hard...he takes his practice seriously.” And Bumrah himself admitted post his brilliant spell against Bangladesh at the ongoing World Cup that at times he is a bit “hard on himself”.
Bumrah, the international cricketer, has 49 wickets in 10 Tests, 99 wickets in 56 ODIs and 51 wickets in 42 T20Is (stats prior to the match against Sri Lanka on 6 July 2019) . But for Bumrah, the student of cricket, his learning phase began in first-class cricket. In 36 first-class matches for Gujarat, he has taken 138 wickets with nine five-wicket hauls at an average of 24.11.
For a bowler who always wanted to see the stumps fly, first-class cricket helped Bumrah understand that the sport wasn’t just about pace and yorkers.
“Bumrah had it in him to bowl 30-35 overs. But he realised it wasn’t just about pace in first-class cricket,” said Majmudar, who has worked with him over the past five years.
“Firstly, he was totally about pace. But bowling with pace on flat tracks in domestic cricket doesn’t help a pacer. Also, he was bowling only inswingers (with his action and angle). But red ball and white ball cricket are totally different. There are times when you need to bowl with the old ball, with the red cherry. So he started to bowl outswingers in practice with the same angle and same bowling action,” added Majmudar.
In 2013, then Mumbai Indians coach and scout John Wright ensured that a talent as bright and unique as Bumrah didn’t go unnoticed. Rubbing shoulders with the likes of Lasith Malinga, Mitchell Johnson and Shane Bond was a big learning curve for Bumrah.
Bumrah perfected his yorkers under the watchful eyes of Malinga and the more he trained the better he got at it.
“He (gained) a lot of experience from Malinga, Johnson, Bond and Shaun Pollock. He started with yorkers with Malinga and he made it his own ball and then he started working on slower balls. He has said that Malinga helped him a lot with 'shoes on popping crease'. With Bumrah, everything is practice. He is a quick learner and a hard worker,” said Majmudar.
At the World Cup, Bumrah has frequently bowled 4-5 overs at the death in most matches and he has hardly missed his target -- either the batsman’s toes or the base of the stumps. His yorkers have been spot on almost every single time.
Well, that once again comes down to specific practice for death bowling. Explaining Bumrah’s practice routine, Majmudar said: “Jasprit always practises first with all the boys in the Gujarat team. After he has finished the practice with the team, he starts bowling with just one stump. I think he practises three to four overs bowling only yorkers with one stump. Then he practises 2-3 overs for slower ones and other variations.”
Post the Bangladesh match, where he choked the Bangladesh batsmen with his precise yorkers and slower ones, Bumrah was asked how he could execute such a tough art with consistency match after match. Bumrah, replied: “Everything is preparation. I do it again and again and again in the nets. So the more you do it, you get decent at it.”
Always humble, Bumrah added: “You can't master it. You're still trying to get better at it, yeah. It's all about repetition. It's like any other ball. If you've bowled so many length balls, just like that. So you have to do it again and again and try to replicate in the game."
It makes sense. Targetting a single stump for 4-5 overs on the trot even during practice is a tough ask but for Bumrah “the repetition” matters a lot. It’s like an imposition for him, but one which Bumrah loves to do day in and day out.
While Bumrah’s improvement on the skill front has had a major role to play when it comes to his success in red-ball cricket, his understanding of his own action and fitness also plays a huge part in his rise up the ranks as an all-format bowler.
“He has a lot of inner motivation. He bounced back fitter and stronger post a knee injury in 2014. He understands his action. From the beginning, he was bowling with same action. Now he knows where the strengths and weaknesses are. You can talk about his leg strength, back strength, wherever his efforts are going, he is working on that part with trainers and physios,” said Majmudar.
Skills - check, fitness - check. But what about Bumrah’s mental strength? Post the no-ball during the final of the 2017 Champions Trophy final against Pakistan, social media did not spare Bumrah and he was trolled for the foot-fault.
All Bumrah did was go back to Gujarat College ground and started rectifying his no-ball issues.
Revealing the discussion with Bumrah, VIjay Patel, head coach of Gujarat Cricket Association, said: “We had talked about that no-ball incident. But he is very down to earth... 'sir, ho gaya’ (was all he said). He also didn’t want to bowl it... but it happens. But he is a mentally strong person. He bounced back brilliantly post that to become the No 1 bowler. To be a champion bowler, you need to have that mental strength and Bumrah is a champion bowler.”
Majmudar played the umpire when Bumrah was bowling at the nets in an attempt to get his foot behind the line. “I was the umpire and we were trying to figure out no balls. Even we were discussing that he should take one step behind or go backwards a little bit, maybe mark his run up again. It was a marginal thing that he had to adjust.
“He never thinks about no balls. For that extra effort, when Bumrah bowls 145+ kmph, I know there are chances of the foot crossing the line occasionally.
“Every time when I stood behind right where the umpire would stand, whenever he used to practice here, he used to tell that half a foot should be behind… ‘I have to be a little bit behind’. He worked hard on that.”
During the World Cup, Bumrah has bowled only one no ball so far in eight games (prior to the Sri Lanka match).
For the time being, Bumrah, the student, wants to enjoy playing cricket and says he doesn’t feel like an experienced player, only resting when an opportunity presents itself.