Talk about Indian cricket and fast bowling is something that was looked down upon as a weakness traditionally. For ages, the Indian fast bowling attack is something that has failed to impress. While the likes of Kapil Dev, Javagal Srinath, and Zaheer Khan have come along, the Indian attack, on the whole, was never a force to reckon with. All that changed in 2018.
The current Indian attack has been as good as one could have expected. In South Africa, England and Australia, the Indian bowlers have taken 20 wickets consistently. The heights the current pace attack has reached are unprecedented heights.
The likes of Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, and Umesh Yadav have been around for a long time. Their growth is something that should not surprise most. The potential was there for everyone to see even before the South African series started and its heartening for most fans to see them live up to it. However, the star of the show has been Jasprit Bumrah. His selection in South Africa caused a massive uproar.
A debutant's selection on basis of limited overs form ahead proven test performers did not go well with many. Prior to the Cape Town Test, Bumrah had not played a first-class match for over a year. However, the decision to introduce Bumrah to red-ball cricket has turned out to be a masterstroke.
What Bumrah has achieved in the last 12 months is nothing short of remarkable. In the 9 test matches he has played, Bumrah has taken 48 wickets at an average of 21.02. In both, South Africa and England, Bumrah picked up 14 wickets in 3 matches at an average of 25.21 and 25.91 respectively. In Australia, he has managed to elevate his game even further by taking 20 wickets in three matches at a remarkable average of 14.65
The fact that his performance in Australia has improved speaks volumes of the bowler he is. First of all, it shows the improvement in his game with more experience of the format. This symbolizes how quick a learner Bumrah is, something Indian fans are aware of since he made his debut in limited overs cricket. Moreover, Bumrah's performance in Australia is an example of his ability to pick wickets regardless of help from the pitch. In both, Adelaide and Melbourne, the pitches did not give a lot of support to fast bowlers yet Bumrah thrived on them.
The thing that stands out about the Gujarat fast bowler is his match-winning abilities. Bumrah was India's highest wicket-taker in each of India's four overseas wins this year. In Johannesburg and Trent Bridge, Bumrah took seven wickets while he managed six scalps in Adelaide and nine in Melbourne. Except for Adelaide, Bumrah registered a five-wicket haul in one inning of each victory. Quite clearly, he is not just someone who takes wickets but a player who the captain can rely on to get him wickets.
With his rise in the longer format, Bumrah has become an all format player. Like in test cricket, Bumrah had taken no time to establish himself as one of the world's best in limited overs cricket. In one-day international cricket, Bumrah has a stunning average of 21.01 in 44 games having taken 78 wickets. On the other hand, his T20 International record is as impressive with an average of 20.47 in 40 games having taken 48 wickets at an extremely impressive economy of 6.77.
With his invincible status across all three formats, there is a good case to make that Bumrah is now as important to the Indian team as Virat Kohli. Quite clearly, the Indian bowling is extremely reliant on Bumrah's presence. How much his absence affects the men in blue was visible in the one-day International series in England, the first two games vs West Indies or even the match against Hong Kong in the Asia Cup.
With the World Cup approaching, it is extremely important for India to wrap him in cotton wool. So good is Bumrah that having him fit could end up being the difference between India winning or not winning the big trophy. With only six months left for the mega event in England, it is extremely important for India to have a plan to have him and Bhuvneshwar Kumar in optimal condition for the World Cup.
It will be interesting to see how India manages Bumrah. The IPL taking place just before the team flies to England is clearly a major hindrance. The BCCI will have to convince the Mumbai Indians to rest him for a few games in the tournament. Moreover, how the team uses him in upcoming international games will be interesting to see.
India has a host of ODI and T20I games lined up for the next few months. While Australia and New Zealand are strong oppositions to go against, one would hope Bumrah is rested for a few games. Even if it comes at the cost of losing a series, it would all be worth in the larger scheme of things.
Even after the World Cup, taking proper care of Bumrah could shape the team's fortune. In the 25-year old, India has a true jewel in their crown. It is no secret that fast bowlers are extremely vulnerable to injuries. In the past, India has lost a few great potentials because of fitness issues. Bumrah's slinging action makes him all the more vulnerable to possible injury problems. The board and team management's management of him will be extremely crucial. There is no way he can play every game in all formats.
Do India continue with him for home tests against the likes of West Indies or Afghanistan, or do they know now start resting him in limited overs cricket? Virat Kohli and the selectors will have to take a judicious call to ensure Bumrah has a long and fruitful career. Having him fit for important matches is as important for the Indian team as for Bumrah himself.
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