It's only been one ODI but you can't not get excited about Umran Malik

New Zealand v India - 1st ODI
Umran Malik bowled briskly on his ODI debut

25th November, 2022, Eden Park, thousands of fans at the ground and millions in India hold their collective breath as Umran Malik marks out his run-up. Prior to Friday, he has not played any ODI cricket for India. He has featured in a handful of T20Is but because he was expensive, many have drawn their conclusions.

Some say he is raw. Some say he does not yet have the control to play for India consistently. A few say that he must be trusted, but almost everyone agrees that this boy from Jammu and Kashmir is a generational talent – someone who can bowl as quickly as anyone from these shores has ever bowled.

So, there is a fair bit going on, even before he has bowled a ball at Auckland. New Zealand have been rocked early but seem to have regained a semblance of control, with Devon Conway and Kane Williamson out in the middle. Williamson, for those unaware, understands and appreciates Umran’s skills more than most, considering he regularly used him to break open games in IPL 2022 for the Sunrisers Hyderabad.

Still, there is a feeling of the unknown with Umran. He could spray the ball around, or he could thunder through batters’ defences. What is certain, though, is that he will bowl quick. And that is exactly what he does, hitting speeds close to 150 in his first over in ODI cricket.

Umran Malik picked up two wickets at Auckland

Umran Malik The Jammu Express in his 1st ODIs 153.1kmph 🔥 What a Moment #UmranMalik #NZvsIND

A couple of overs later, that raw pace yields the reward India wants. The speedster hangs the ball outside off stump and Conway, because he feels the urge to do something to counter the pace, throws his hands at it. In the end, though, he feathers it through to the keeper. Even before the umpire raises his finger, Umran is off on his celebratory run, channelling his inner Dale Steyn by emulating the chainsaw celebration that was once synonymous with the South African quick.

The clearest indication of what Umran brings to the table, however, is reserved for the 20th over. Up against Williamson – a batter who would know most of the tricks the fast bowler has up his sleeve, he gets the ball to snake away from a back of a length. This, by the way, was on a surface that had not assisted the seamers a lot. And here Umran was, getting the ball to jag away at close to 150 clicks.

Unfortunately for India, it evades the keeper and third slip. But as soon as the ball grazes the outside edge, Williamson and New Zealand know that they are in a fight. Four balls later, Daryl Mitchell perishes to Umran – again, attempting the sort of stroke only raw pace forces you to play. Another slice, another catch and Umran, all of a sudden, has two wickets to his name.

The rest of the evening does not quite go to plan for India. Shardul Thakur gets torn to shreds by Tom Latham. Latham, in fact, ripped apart every Indian bowler he faced, including Umran. But the only time he seemed in any sort of trouble was when he was facing the SRH speedster. Yes, he hit boundaries off him but when Latham was making it seem like he was batting on a highway, the pacer incessantly hurried him into strokes. If that does not tell you what Umran is about, nothing ever will.

That said, the 23-year-old is still raw and has not played a lot of international cricket, meaning that there will be days when his radar goes awry and he sprays the ball around. What India must acknowledge, though, is that that is alright when talking about a bowler of his ilk, because on days when he gets it right, he can single-handedly blow any batting unit away.

He could also be used in the role that was made famous by Liam Plunkett during England’s 2019 World Cup triumph. Plunkett bowled a heavy ball in the middle overs and his pace induced mistakes, despite the ball usually not swinging and batting becoming conventionally easier. Umran is certainly not there yet. But there are signs that he could get there, only if India are brave enough to stick with him, and give him the sort of confidence that tearaway quicks like him need.

For all the hype, it must be remembered that he has played a grand total of 1 ODI, and if you look at his overall figures, you’d see a bowler who has conceded more than run-a-ball across his spell. Stats, though, don’t tell the entire story, especially in this case.

There was enough to be excited about, and enough to drool over how stunningly different Umran could be to what India have historically produced in terms of fast-bowlers. There will be ups and downs - of that there is absolutely no doubt.

Liked what I saw of Umran Malik. Very tough bowling conditions but he coped. Definitely worth persisting with.

But if Auckland illustrated anything, it was that he has what it takes to survive in this environment – of course, with the right kind of guidance. Oh, and as far as people holding their collective breath is concerned, not many are able to do that as well as him.

There’s uncertainty. There’s even the fear of the unknown at times. But there’s also the raw, unfiltered excitement of what he might come up with on any given day. In the chilly confines of Eden Park, his bowling was like fire, providing warmth to everyone apart from those playing for New Zealand.

And that’s what sheer, unadulterated pace does. That is what Umran does!

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Edited by Prasen Moudgal
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