In Jasprit Bumrah, India have their biggest fast bowling hope
The ease and alarming regularity with which Jasprit Bumrah bowls yorkers at the death makes him India's biggest fast bowling hope in ages.
The bowler at the top of his mark is a bundle of nerves. He is a nineteen-year-old kid making his IPL debut. He is continuously wiping his hands on his trousers. He is sweating the nervous kind of sweat.
The powerplay is still on. Facing him is Indian superstar Virat Kohli. At the non striker's end, stands the human hulk Chris Gayle. His multiple World Cup-winning captain, Ricky Ponting sets the field for him. The soon to be the most feared bowler in the world Mitchell Johnson is helping him calm down. So is a certain Sachin Tendulkar from mid on. The current leading test wicket taker, Harbhajan Singh shouts encouragement from mid wicket.
After a few seconds, all of them disappear. And he is left alone. They have done all they could. Now it's up to him. To do what any aspiring cricketer wants to do. Give all they have got playing in a packed stadium, with millions watching on TV.
As he takes his first strides, he would know that today, he can live his dream. Or experience his worst nightmare. It's cricket. It's life.
It looks as if it's a nightmare.
The first ball is short outside off. It hardly reaches Kohli, who waits and waits, and finally, when it comes, thrashes it to the point boundary with all his might. The next ball is almost a replay.
The kid looks lost. Like he shouldn't be here. Not quite ready to handle this.
The third ball is a dot. A sarcastic round of applause from the crowd. He is in a hurry to complete his over. He wants to wake up from sleep and realise it's not for real. This is not how anyone plans their first big match to play out.
The fourth ball is a bit fuller than the first three. Kohli slaps it over cover for another four. As he goes to tap gloves with Gayle, he has his trademark arrogant smirk on his face. As if to say that he'll smash this kind of bowling even after having had vodka shots the entire night. That smirk is dismissive. So are his shots. So is is walk.
By now, the kid has his head down. No one comes up to him. He, all of nineteen, is out there facing his most horrific demons. Each ball, each boundary feels the same as when someone is stabbed with a dagger. With each hit, dies a bit of hope.
The fifth ball feels different. His awkward action looks even more awkward as he runs diagonally to the wicket, and delivers the ball from wide of the crease.
It swings in more than one could imagine doing in Cricket '07. Kohli is left shocked. He can hardly move his bat or his feet. It's much quicker too. The first four were Bajaj scooters. This one is a Royal Enfield.
Kohli is trapped on the pads. The kid appeals. It's his last drop of hope. To turn around his greatest nightmare. He's almost squealing. The umpire raises his finger. The kid shouts so loud he would probably have lost his voice.
The others mob him. But this is his moment. This is his dream.
He shows he can handle the big stage. He can handle the pressure. He can hold himself amongst the stars. He shows he belongs here.
He takes two more wickets to end with 3 for 32. Ponting bowls him out by the 12th over here. And, through the entire season, he hardly bowls at the death. For that Mumbai, have other options. International players. Maybe, they feel that he's not cut out for that.
Little do they know that two and a half years later, this kid would become India's biggest death bowling hope.
For now, the 4th of April 2013, the kid grows into a man. On TV, as the telecast is coming to an end, Harsha Bhogle signs off by saying "Jasprit Bumrah. Remember the name".
For the next two years, Jasprit Bumrah worked his gut out, bowled overs by the dozen for Gujarat at the domestic level and for Mumbai Indians in the IPL. He developed the bouncer, the ball that straightened after pitching as well as an away swinger. He added a yard of pace. More than all of that, he worked on the yorker, the yorker that no one in the country was capable of consistently producing. Not even one soul.
He learnt by watching Lasith Malinga from close quarters, from practising with him at the Mumbai Indians camp. In the matches, his captains, Rohit Sharma in the IPL and Parthiv Patel at Gujarat, trusted him, under pressure, to deliver at the death. And he produced consistent results. The wickets came a plenty in List A and T20 cricket. He kept the runs in check. He was a captain's dream, his best friend in times of distress. Ever consistent. Ever reliable.
Concurrently, the Indian team were having a horrible time in limited overs cricket. No matter how many runs their batsmen scored, no matter how clinical their fielding was, the bowlers always leaked a mountain of runs at the death. They tried Ishant Sharma, they tried, Varun Aaron. They tried Umesh Yadav, Mohit Sharma, Jaydev Unadkat, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, everyone. No one except Shami inspired confidence. And even he was average at best.
Bumrah's rise came at the correct time. India needed a death bowler. And in their never-ending quest for that, they turned to him.
For India, he was just another option. For them, 23 January 2016 was just another day, just another ODI against Australia. For Bumrah, it was his moment, his dream. An Indian cap.