Umran Malik’s jaw-dropping pace in the ongoing edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) has catapulted him to stardom. The Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) speedster has claimed 21 wickets this season and thrilled everyone with his 150 kmph-plus thunderbolts.
From being a net bowler for the Orange Army to becoming Indian cricket’s latest sensation, the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) youngster has experienced an incredible rise in less than a year.
The 22-year-old is likely to earn his maiden India call-up for the upcoming five-match T20I series against South Africa at home. An impressive performance versus the Proteas followed by the Asia Cup might put him in contention for a spot in the Indian squad for the T20 World Cup, which will be played on pace-friendly Australian pitches later this year.
Malik, one of SRH’s three retained players along with captain Kane Williamson and J&K all-rounder Abdul Samad, nearly broke Shaun Tait’s record for the fastest delivery bowled in IPL history (157.71 kmph) when he clocked 157 kmph during his team’s clash against Delhi Capitals earlier in the month.
Former J&K captain Parvez Rasool is confident that Malik will break former Pakistan pacer Shoaib Akhtar’s fastest delivery record in international cricket (161 kmph) in the future. The first cricketer from J&K to represent India and bag an IPL contract, Rasool has been a leading all-rounder in Indian domestic cricket for almost a decade now.
He has plied his trade for the erstwhile Pune Warriors India (PWI), SRH and Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) in the past, and recently propelled Sheikh Jamal Dhanmondi Club to their maiden Dhaka Premier League title as their overseas recruit.
In an exclusive interview with Sportskeeda, Rasool recounted Malik’s transition to senior-level cricket, spoke about Rasikh Salam and Abdul Samad’s prospects, and raised concerns about the poor cricket infrastructure in Jammu and Kashmir. Here are the excerpts:
Q: How did you spot Umran Malik?
Rasool: He played two or three games for Jammu & Kashmir’s U-19 team before coming to our nets. This was a couple of years ago. He was extremely quick at the time as well. Abdul Samad was very supportive of him and recommended him to us. We were very impressed with Umran’s raw pace and he seemed to be a rare talent.
After that, we played a few practice matches on some bad wickets, but even then he stood out with his speed. He made his senior debut in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy and played one match in the Vijay Hazare Trophy in 2020. He was a bit erratic at the time and lacked control. However, his SRH stint has made him a completely different bowler now.
He has bowled brilliantly in this year’s Ranji Trophy as well. The most impressive qualities about him are his unending energy and ability to learn quickly.
Q: Dale Steyn recently told us that he expects to see Malik in international cricket soon. How much is Malik benefiting from the experience of being mentored by Steyn at such a young age?
Rasool: I’m really happy for Umran. He cannot get a greater mentor than Steyn. I’m sure Steyn must be having a great time with him. We’ve seldom seen bowlers bowl so fast in India. Earlier, if a pacer hit the 140 kmph plus mark consistently, he would make headlines.
Now you have a bowler who can clock a speed of 157 kmph! Can you imagine? I think Umran will break Shoaib Akhtar’s record for the fastest delivery bowled in international cricket.
Q: With so much cricket being played nowadays, workload management will be crucial to Malik’s sustainability. Do you think he should be preserved for Test cricket in order to bring the best out of him?
Rasool: Workload management indeed plays a crucial part in a fast bowler’s career. When Umran gets an India call-up, the team management needs to take good care of him. Why preserve him only for Test cricket? The way he’s bowling at the moment, I think he should be tried out in all the formats. This boy is ready for all the formats of international cricket.
Q: Fast bowlers like Malik can leak a lot of runs at times. Is this a cause for concern in the shorter formats?
Rasool: On odd days, even the best bowlers can go for a lot of runs. International batters like David Warner are used to facing extreme pace. This is one area where Umran needs to plan better. That said, he should always remain positive and keep bowling aggressively. He shouldn’t worry about conceding runs as that may invite negative thoughts. The more he plays, the better he’ll understand how to bowl to different batters in different match situations.
Q: You’ve seen Malik very closely. Some players tend to overanalyze their poor performances. Is Malik like that?
Rasool: Earlier, he used to overthink, but he’s more mature now. Samad and I support him all the time. We encourage him to think positive. The J&K players are mentally very strong. We always punch above our weight and have defeated many strong teams of late. Bishan Singh Bedi and Irfan Pathan deserve credit for instilling mental toughness in the team.
Let me you a story. Umran conceded over 90 runs against Bengal in last year’s Vijay Hazare Trophy. He was naturally dejected after that and was sitting quietly in the dressing room. I told him that it wasn’t the end of the world. In smaller states, a youngster hardly gets any motivation from the seniors.
As a senior player, I’ve tried to change the tradition. I always back the youngsters because they are the future of J&K cricket. That’s why I tell my boys to be with and around positive players.
Q: Rasikh Salam was ruled out after playing only a couple of matches for Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) this season. What is your assessment of him?
Rasool: Rasikh Salam is an amazing talent! He has improved a lot since making his IPL debut for Mumbai Indians (MI) in 2019. He has the potential to be a good all-rounder in the future as he can bat too. He comes from a district called Kulgam, which is nearly 70 kilometres away from Srinagar.
That district doesn’t have any infrastructure, yet the boy has made his way up. Despite making a mark in the IPL, he hasn’t found a place in the state team. That’s really unfortunate.
Q: Despite being a retained player, Abdul Samad was dropped from the SRH playing XI after a few poor performances. What are the areas where he can improve?
Rasool: I talk to both Samad and Umran over the phone regularly. Samad is a very positive boy. He was out playing a rash shot in SRH’s first match against the Rajasthan Royals (RR). He should’ve avoided that shot, but was unlucky in the second match against the Lucknow Super Giants (LSG) where he got an inside edge and was dismissed for a golden duck.
Samad was given many chances by SRH last season, but he couldn’t capitalize on them. This year, he hasn’t got enough chances, but has been batting quite well. He made a brilliant hundred [103 off 78 deliveries] in the Ranji Trophy in February. He’s a good all-rounder. He should now step up and show everyone his true potential.
Q: So many talented players are emerging from your state. Has the infrastructure become any better?
Rasool: That’s the most unfortunate thing, brother. After I played for India, I really thought that the cricket infrastructure in Jammu and Kashmir would get better. It has been six years since then, but nothing has changed. In fact, the situation is getting worse day by day. The only positive is that the boys are playing well.
Youngsters like Umran and Samad work very hard, but they hardly get any support. J&K cricket is in a shambles. We have 22 districts, but only two cricket grounds in Jammu and Srinagar, which are in poor condition. Where will the boys practice? We’ve suffered a lot in our careers, but I don’t want the next generation to suffer. The BCCI should look into the matter immediately and help us out.
Q. Do you think Umran Malik will make his debut for India in the upcoming T20I series against South Africa?
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