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Playing for the Indian team is my ultimate dream, and it's the reason behind my infectious smile.
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Playing for the Indian team is my ultimate dream, and it’s the reason behind my infectious smile.

“In my head, growing up, I was never unorthodox,” says Jasprit Bumrah from his home in Ahmedabad. Time with loved ones is a precious commodity for India’s galácticos, but their champion fast bowler has spared some for a chat before Thursday’s highly anticipated first Test against England.

“I didn’t realize I was different until I participated in a national junior camp and watched a video of myself,” the 30-year-old explains. “I was simply focused on bowling fast and taking wickets, it never crossed my mind. But now, it has become my strength. It’s possible that my technique was influenced by watching various bowlers on TV, but I’ve been lucky enough to have coaches who never tried to alter my style.”

It may be tempting to label Bumrah as a one-of-a-kind player, but when it comes to India, his value is multiplied. The reality is that there is no other fast bowler like him in international cricket. His distinctive bowling action produces unparalleled seam and swing.

From a side view, it is an exciting sight to see Bumrah running in with the force of a trebuchet and exploding at the crease. His elbow hyperextends and his wrist snaps as the ball is released closer to the batter than most. From a front view, the ball can come from anywhere between 10 and two o’clock on a clock face. In a sport that requires precise angles and quick reflexes, Bumrah challenges batters with an abundance of questions like a hyperactive toddler.

Many batters may have wanted the coaches to make changes, as Bumrah has emerged as one of the top players in all three formats. He has impressive statistics, leads the Indian pace attack, and is the vice-captain to Rohit Sharma. His journey started on a couch in Gujarat, where he was raised by his mother Daljit. He was completely captivated by cricket, especially one aspect of the game.

“I don’t know the switch that turned me on to fast bowling but it has always been fast bowling,” he says. “I was never interested in high scoring games, or batsmen scoring big runs, hitting fours and sixes. And there wasn’t a particular hero. It could be left arm, right, it didn’t matter … I’d just copy whoever was the hero of the week.”

The question is raised here about the skirting boards, questioning the validity of the story behind the creation of Bumrah’s laser-guided yorker. Bumrah confirms that it is indeed true, explaining that during hot summers in India, children are often kept indoors and his hyperactive nature was restricted by his mother’s afternoon naps.

India’s Jasprit Bumrah delivers a ball during the second day of the second Test between South Africa and India at Newlands stadium in Cape Town on 4 January 2024

“I discovered that when I rolled a ball into the baseboard, it made no noise. This allowed me to bowl without disrupting her, without any problems. I never could have predicted that this would later become a yorker, as I had no knowledge of what that was at the time.”

Bumrah’s initial introduction to the fast-paced world of tape-ball cricket honed his skills of aiming for the stumps. He then continued to develop his abilities while playing for the Gujarat Cricket Association. If not for his progress in the sport, Bumrah had a backup plan to move to Canada where he could finish his education, as his uncle lived there.

However, there is no question about the day that sparked his career – when John Wright, a New Zealander employed by Mumbai Indians, went to Gujarat in 2013 to watch Axar Patel play T20 and discovered an impressive fast bowler on the opposing team. Wright convinced the franchise that signing him was crucial. Bumrah, who is now a star of the Indian Premier League, humbly describes himself as a “happy accident.”

To Test cricket, both the looming reunion with England – a side against whom he boasts 41 wickets – and its future. Given Bumrah’s all-format success, be it five IPL titles or his centrality to India’s white-ball sides, does this very modern cricketer have a preference?

“I belong to the generation that reveres Test cricket,” he responds. “I will always measure my abilities based on it. While I did begin with IPL, it was through first-class cricket that I honed my skills and mastered the art of taking wickets. In Test cricket, the ultimate goal is to dismiss the batsman, which constantly challenges me as a bowler.”

In T20 and ODI matches, it is possible to get multiple players out with slower balls. However, in a Test match, this may not be as effective. In Test cricket, luck does not play a factor and the superior team always emerges victorious. Luck cannot be relied on to take 20 wickets. Personally, I have always valued Test cricket over white-ball cricket.

I am unsure of the perspective of younger individuals, but Test cricket has a long history and will continue to thrive. Each format of the sport has its own value – too much Test cricket can become monotonous, while too much white ball cricket can become repetitive. I believe that a balance of different formats is necessary, rather than an excess of one particular format.

What is his perspective on Bazball, the extremely optimistic approach that England is expected to adopt in the upcoming seven-week period? He does not personally identify with the term Bazball, but acknowledges that England is playing well and taking an aggressive approach towards their opponents, showcasing a different style of Test cricket.

“As a bowler, I believe that it allows me to stay actively involved in the game. If the opposing team is playing aggressively and quickly, it won’t exhaust me and I may be able to take multiple wickets. I consistently strategize ways to use the situation to my benefit. While I applaud their efforts, as a bowler, I am still an important player in the game.”

Jasprit Bumrah celebrates with teammates after dismissing Ollie Pope of England during day two of fifth Test at Edgbaston in 2022

Bumrah has met England once since their reboot under Ben Stokes and carved out a small chunk of history himself, ransacking 29 runs off a Stuart Broad over that went for 35 in total. It makes for an unlikely record holder – Brian Lara’s 28 the figure eclipsed here – even if the tailender is no rabbit. “I always remind the batters that if they need some advice on playing the pull shot, they know where to come,” Bumrah says, laughing.

Despite India’s defeat, Bumrah considers the 2022 Edgbaston Test to be a significant moment for him as he stepped up to lead his team in the absence of Sharma, who had contracted Covid-19. With Pat Cummins’ success as a rare seam-bowling captain for Australia, is it Bumrah’s long-term goal to succeed the 36-year-old Sharma?

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“I had the incredible privilege of playing a Test match and it was truly an honor,” responds Bumrah. “While playing Test cricket is amazing, captaining the team was even better. Although we did not win, we were leading in the match and I thoroughly enjoyed the responsibility. As a fast bowler, it’s easy to switch off while fielding at fine leg, but I truly relished being involved in every decision and being in the midst of all the action.”

“If given the chance, it’s only natural that anyone would take it. [Cummins] represents Australia and the number of games varies, among other factors. It is a rare accomplishment for a [seamer], but it serves as a great example that fast bowlers are the intelligent ones, as they perform a tough role and have a good understanding of the game.”

The mention of Cummins and his achievement leads us to the World Cup final in November, where Australia caused heartbreak for a nation. Bumrah, who had recovered from a lower back injury, was performing exceptionally well during the tournament alongside Mohammed Shami, easily dismantling opposing teams. However, their momentum came to a halt during the final game in Ahmedabad, in front of a crowd of 92,000, leaving a devastating impact.

The individual states that when they were at home, their team had won every game. They believe that it is not fair to dismiss a loss as just part of the game. They were disappointed and believe that it is natural to feel that way because they had put in a lot of effort and played well. Despite the disappointment, they understand that it is their job to move on and focus on the upcoming T20 World Cup in six months. They believe that on important occasions, things will fall into place and success will come. It is impossible to reach the final if the team is not skilled enough. They admit that the loss did affect them for a few days.

After the incident, it was evident that Bumrah, although shocked, remained optimistic and focused on comforting his teammates. This is a characteristic trait of Bumrah, finding joy in the face of challenges and enjoying the hard work. Apart from his exceptional abilities and crucial contributions to winning matches, this is one of the reasons why fans from all nations admire his style of cricket.

Bumrah describes his learning process as completely self-taught. Being a fast bowler who primarily learned through watching television, he initially believed that anger and confrontation were necessary on the field. This led him to adopt a more aggressive persona during his time playing junior cricket.

After attempting such antics, I came to the realization that they do not align with my true self and do not aid in my ability to concentrate on my task at hand. As a fast bowler, I naturally experience anger, but I learned to channel it effectively. My goal is not to entertain or provide throwdowns, but rather to take wickets and make the opposing team uncomfortable. However, I must also maintain my composure and focus.

Jimmy Anderson and Jasprit Bumrah exchange words at the end of play during the second Test at Lord’s in 2021

I always dreamed of playing for India, and when I feel exhausted, I remind myself of that. It’s the reason for my smile. A cricket career has its limits and won’t last forever. I constantly talk to myself and strive to enjoy it, as it holds great significance to me.

Although the red mist may not fully disappear, it did make an appearance during the 2021 England tour. In particular, a series of events, including a remarkable reverse swing burst at the Oval, brought attention to a 10-ball over in which Anderson was roughed up at Lord’s. Despite his admiration for Anderson, this incident sparked a heated exchange of words in the Long Room.

“I was fatigued and believed that the final wicket was within reach. I attempted to increase my bowling speed,” he clarifies. “During the middle of the over, I approached him and asked, ‘Are you alright?’ but received an unfavorable response. This brought back memories of trying to be kind and it not being well-received in the past. It ignited the entire team. I was overcome with anger, but I channeled it constructively. As athletes, fighting and playing come naturally to us; however, managing our emotions is something we learn on our own.”

“I have been an avid observer of [Anderson] since my childhood, and I give him ample credit for still playing at the age of 41. This is a testament to his determination and love for the game. While favorable conditions may have played a role, his continuous dedication to preparation sets him apart. While skills and techniques can be acquired, having the will to persist is a significant accomplishment in my eyes.”

As we conclude, Bumrah prepares to depart from his young family, which he credits for altering his outlook on life, and reunite with the India team in Hyderabad. I inquire if we will witness his mesmerizing bowling action for another 10 years. “I certainly hope so,” he responds. “I don’t like to think too far ahead, but I am certain that wherever I may be, I will be content.”

Source: theguardian.com