Pace, precision and planning - Umran Malik is beginning to look the real deal

The fast bowler (R) has been breathing fire
The fast bowler (R) has been breathing fire
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Shashwat Kumar

Everything in this world happens at its own speed. There is a reason why it materializes that way and it often isn’t up to mere mortals to change that tack. It is, quite simply put, a universal truth and nothing anyone can do can change it. But there are times when something/someone comes around just to challenge those notions.

It could be an incredibly fast car – a car that allows you to speak to the wind and lets you enjoy everything quicker. Or, it could be a gadget that takes time out of the equation and provides you with every answer at the touch of a button. In cricketing parlances, such aberrations are usually tearaway fast bowlers.

This isn’t something that’s eternal. If anything, these things aren’t intended from a long-term perspective, and may not even be sustainable. For that very moment, though, it provides the thrill that it should. And quite usually, that is enough.

Cut to the IPL, and a battle between the Gujarat Titans and the Sunrisers Hyderabad – teams placed in the highest echelon of the IPL 2022 points table. Both have irresistible bowling units. GT have Mohammed Shami. SRH have Bhuvneshwar Kumar. GT have Yash Dayal. SRH have Marco Jansen. GT have Lockie Ferguson. But on Wednesday, all that matters is SRH have Umran Malik.

And, so it begins. The game, as is the case with almost everything on this planet, moves along at its own speed. SRH put up a mighty total on the board, although that doesn’t really prompt the Titans to break sweat. They breeze through the powerplay, courtesy of Shubman Gill and Wriddhiman Saha and establish a solid foundation to hunt down the total.

At that very juncture, the Titans fans, who easily outnumber their SRH counterparts at the Wankhede Stadium, begin breaking into a dance (metaphorically). They sense that another victory is within grasp. The SRH faithful, though, are mindful that they have an ace up their sleeve – an ace who could break the game for them by conceding truckloads of runs, but also a bowler who could make the game for them.

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Umran Malik bagged five wickets against Gujarat Titans

The first ball Umran bowls is clocked at around 144 kmph. Moans and groans ring out inside the commentary box. Those at the venue also question whether this lad is really as quick as some are making him out to be. It still hurtles onto Saha though, who, before this over, had been dominating. A thud of the thigh pad and everyone suddenly begins questioning the speed gun. Surely that was quicker than 144 kmph?

A ball later, Umran cranks it up. He bowls a little shorter and dares Saha to attempt the pull. The latter doesn’t back down but he horribly splices it into the leg side for a single. On the third ball of the over, Umran bowls a length ball to Gill – a delivery that doesn’t give the batter any room and forces him to shovel it to mid-wicket.

With the ball smashing into the bat, Gill has come to the conclusion that he needs some room to flay the ball. Till last season, or even at the beginning of this campaign, Umran would’ve been oblivious to it. Not at the Wankhede. He understands what Gill is trying to do and throws the bait by bowling a tad shorter. The batter’s eyes light up and his pre-meditated backing away seems prudent.

He has an almighty swish at it too. The only problem, though, is that he is awfully late on the stroke. Within a millisecond, he then finds his off stump lying flat on the ground. Umran runs past him in celebration and then brings out what can be termed a chainsaw celebration. It’s something a certain Dale Steyn did for almost the entirety of this career. Not the celebration. But the uncluttered thought-process, the precision and the pace.

Umran pace ka Maalik… 5wickets 👏

All of that does not matter now. Hardik Pandya is out to bat, and after what had transpired in their previous meeting, this is a tasty contest. Back then, Pandya had been struck on the helmet and had retaliated by stroking a string of boundaries. As you might have guessed by now, the first ball is banged into the track. The best part about it, however, is that it is not short enough to duck and it is not wide enough to sway out of the way. It is at Pandya and all he can do is cop a blow flush on the right shoulder.

A ball later, Pandya creams a back-foot punch past a very short mid-off but the battle lines had been drawn by then. In the next over Umran bowls, he has his man – this time, with another short delivery that bounces too high for Pandya to play the pull. Oh, and SRH had a fielder for that exact dismissal, hinting that they are also learning how to handle the ethereal talent Umran possesses. It’s almost as if Kane Williamson, a Rolls-Royce-esque captain, has finally understood how to optimize a Ferrari at his disposal.

A slight lull ensues thereafter. But when Umran returns, he has only one thing in mind – hitting the stumps as hard as he can and seeing if these LED stumps are sturdier than the ones Steyn broke regularly throughout his career. Umran does that thrice.

He begins with a 152.8 kmph thunderbolt yorker to dismiss Saha after pushing him onto the back foot. Umran also continues bowling a back of a length to David Miller before slipping in a pretty fast full delivery that uproots the South African’s middle stump. The best, though, is saved for the end.

Abhinav Manohar, who hasn’t really been troubled by pace this IPL season, walks out, hoping to avert a collapse and keep GT in the game. The first ball is a wide but he seems unflustered. The second ball is on a perfect length on off stump. In his head, Manohar has everything worked out. He will come onto the front foot, offer the full face of the bat and deny Umran a well-deserved five-for.

He does everything right as well. It’s just that Umran is too quick. And too good. Manohar’s feet don’t really go anywhere but against extreme pace, hardly any batters have the time to do so. But that is the beauty about Umran. His pace forces batters to do something different. Even a forward defensive shot seems like a wicket-taking opportunity, and when batters try to take him on, it is as much percentage for them as it is for the pacer.

When the 2022 iteration began, almost everyone knew how fast Umran was. As the season has progressed, though, they’ve had first-hand experience of how fast he actually is. The youngster has also learnt how to work batters over.

Against the Kolkata Knight Riders, he set Shreyas Iyer up with an assortment of short deliveries before splattering his stumps with a pin-point yorker. Against the Punjab Kings, he kept bowling full to Jitesh Sharma before surprising him with a bouncer. These dismissals, apart from showing how well SRH have nurtured him, is also indicative of how Umran is beginning to look the real deal.

Umran Malik is the real deal 🔥🔥🔥🔥

Having said that, there will still be games where his extreme pace is more a boon for the batters than a bane. Balls will fly off the bat and soar over the ropes. But pace is pace, yaar. It allows you to stretch your boundaries and accept a couple of poor performances because when he gets it right, it will blow any opposition away.

It's excitement of the highest order. It is jaw-dropping and at times, it even makes you want to support Umran, irrespective of where your allegiances lie. It's pace like fire. Too hot to handle almost everytime.

Everything with Umran happens at breakneck speed and before an eye can be blinked. But it also seems that that moment has been slowed down, paused, and that that moment can be played on loop forever. It is a different kind of space-time continuum – unlike the notion that everything and everyone in this world moves at a defined speed.

Only extreme pace can challenge that notion. Only Umran can do that.

Edited by Prasen Moudgal
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