He’s India’s deadly weapon: BOOM-RA!
For a tranquil south-east English metropolis like Southampton, that is best known for a ship that set sail from its port only to sink on its maiden voyage, it is an awakening of the senses. Long before the actual game, there is a frenzied atmosphere.
Faces painted in the tri-colour, traditional outfits, and horns being blown set the mood. By the time the first ball is ready to be bowled, the sense of expectation is fever-pitch.
It was even greater on Wednesday at the Hampshire Bowl. Pacifists India are no longer. They are now the aggressors. Gone are the days when Manoj Prahabakar limbered up to the crease to deliver his tame medium-pacers. A skilful artist he may have been, but Prahabakar was never likely to give any opening batsman sleepless nights.
Fast bowling has always been the domain of neighbours Pakistan. Sarfraz Nawaz, Imran Khan, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Shoaib Akhtar - all famed head-hunters from across the border - have been the envy of India.
But no longer. India are now fully-fledged members of the world’s élite fast bowling union. And their talisman is Jasprit Bumrah.
“BOOM-RA, BOOM-RA, BOOM-RA!” the crowd roused when the 25-year-old stood at the top of his mark. It was a surreal experience. Housed in a private suite, courtesy of the Hilton Hotel that is situated inside the Hampshire Bowl, I had the perfect vantage point directly over Bumrah’s venomous right arm.
It was a sight to behold. There is nothing in his run-up to suggest that a potentially life-threatening missile is about to be launched. Much like England’s new fast bowling sensation Jofra Archer, the approach to the crease is languid.
Is it a slow build-up, like a coil being tightened, before gradually building up to explosion at the point of release. It is not rhythmic like Kagiso Rabada’s - Bumrah’s premier rival for numero uno status among fast bowlers. But it was never likely to be either.
Rabada is an athlete. A physical specimen programmed to be a fast bowler. Blessed with long limbs, and even longer arms, plus lungs that are the envy of Olympic marathon runners, Rabada may have been designed in the same laboratory as the Hulk.
Bumrah might as well be Bruce Banner. Bespectacled when not terrorising batsmen on the field, he would be unnoticeable among the multitude of students that submerge on to the High Street from the University of Southampton every afternoon. Most likely a chemistry major too.
You certainly need to be a man of science to fully comprehend Bumrah’s unique action. Not quite in the mould of his Mumbai Indians team-mate Lasith Malinga, but extraordinary enough for his youth coaches to be afforded praise for not curbing his natural trajectory with an MCC bowling manual.
The right arm stretches out high to 10pm, but don’t expect it to be delivered from out there. In a flash, that defies logic and biomechanics, it is back around his ear, and ready to be unleashed.
That’s not before a momentary pause that’s just long enough for the batsman to wonder exactly what’s actually coming. And like any batsmen would confess, that’s the crucial split seconds when only a clear mind is often the difference between a sumptuous cover drive and being caught in the slips. Just ask Hashim Amla and Quinton de Kock.
“Well, one thing you know with facing Jasprit is you have to play good cricketing shots against him and you have to back your technique against him. Because if you are hesitant a little bit, he senses that and he’s all over you,” Indian captain Virat Kohli said of his ace fast bowler’s predatory instincts.
It was only a few weeks ago that De Kock and Bumrah were team-mates with the Mumbai Indians, helping Ms Nita Ambani, who was also an engrossed spectator at the Hampshire Bowl, land their fourth IPL title. The pair are fairly tight too, with Bumrah famously putting his arm around De Kock’s shoulder after the South African wicket-keeper let through four byes in the penultimate over of the final against the Chennai Super Kings in Hyderabad. Despite the game being on the line, it showed off Bumrah’s humility.
At no point should that be interpreted that Bumrah does not want to succeed though. He has an insatiable appetite for wickets, and desperately wants to do well for Team India. And like every great sportsperson, that desire is fully appreciated at training.
“What you see him bowling in the match he bowls exactly like that to us in the nets. He doesn’t care who is standing in front of him. He will bounce people, he will try to get people bowled, he will york people with the new ball and that’s the reason for his consistency. He doesn’t change his game because he’s in the nets compared to the game,” Kohli said.
“He is very disciplined. He is working really hard at practice, in the gym, with his diet, with his rest. He understands this is his time and he’s making the most of it so hat's off, he’s brilliant.”
Bumrah hails from Ahmedabad, a region in western India where the Mercury levels soar close to 50 deg C, and the temperature is the talk over a masala chai, but he is undoubtedly its hottest cricketer. A walk down any street in Gujarat will confirm this for children are already imitating Bumrah’s idiosyncrasies.
If he bowls India to this 2019 World Cup title, there’s no doubt it will be replicated the world over.