At the end of the 32nd over in the Wankhede ODI, Australia were coasting towards a 10-wicket victory, with David Warner and Aaron Finch exploring all corners of the ground to send the Indian fielders on a leather hunt. Australia's victory seemed more or less a foregone conclusion. However, when Jasprit Bumrah, with his hop-skip run-up, charged to the crease to bowl at Warner, there was still a battle to be won.
With Bumrah just making his return from a lower back injury, it was a chance for Warner and Finch to put the Indian spearhead under pressure. Warner was able to get on top of Bumrah by tonking him for a couple of boundaries through covers and mid-off in the 33rd over. For once, as is a rarity, Bumrah's shoulders seemed to be drooping, and confidence denting. The fast bowler wasn't his usual self, bowling too short and struggling for control. He ended up with ordinary figures of 0 for 50 from seven overs.
Just about four months ago, however, Bumrah was an irresistible force - arguably the best all-format fast bowler going around. He was sublime and at the same time ruthless when he bagged five wickets for a mere seven runs in the second essay of the Antigua Test against the Windies. He continued to bowl with penetration and snared a hat-trick in the second Test of the series. In short, the opponent wasn't just defeated by his sheer brilliance, but simply dismantled.
In that series in the West Indies, the fast bowler exhibited a wide range of skills - swinging it both ways, seam movement, hitting the deck hard, well-directed bumpers, yorkers and more importantly, excellent control. Due to his unusual action, the batsmen also seem to pick Bumrah's length a tad late. In September this year, the Indian spearhead suffered a lower back injury and was forced out of top-flight cricket for a while.
Incidentally, a few months before the injury, Dr. Simon Feros, a lecturer in functional anatomy/strength and conditioning sciences, had noted the 'side-bend' in his action could lead to some injury concerns. "If he exceeds 45 degrees of trunk lateral flexion (which I think he may on some occasions), then this element of his action may pose some injury concerns to his lumbar vertebrae," Feros was quoted as saying by PTI.
Bumrah, though, chased through the temporary tunnel of darkness by sticking to the simple qualities of life - hard work and perseverance to return to full fitness for the India-Sri Lanka T20I series. Before the first T20I versus Sri Lanka, the fast bowler had said to BCCI tv: "I took it as an opportunity to build my strength."
It took a while longer for Bumrah to make his much-anticipated comeback. The first T20I in Guwahati was abandoned due to rain. Eventually, in the second game, he bowled his quota of four overs. On expected grounds, it was quite a nervy start as he began with a short of a length delivery down leg and a half-volley. With a few more overs under his belt, he bowled with better rhythm and also dismissed Dasun Shanaka with the slower one. In the final game of the series, his brief two-over spell gave glimpses of his true ability. He dislodged Danushka Gunathilaka with a fine short delivery. However, it is always difficult to gauge a fast bowler's rhythm based on a few overs in the shortest version of the game.
It was the first ODI against the formidable Australian side that gave a clearer picture that Bumrah perhaps still needs miles in his legs to find that 'zone'. Incidentally, as per reports, Bumrah has been bowling at top pace and looking in good rhythm at the nets. "He is same as usual, he is sharp and bowling at good pace. Yes, I played him at the nets, same old Bumrah we know. Nothing has changed in him," said Shreyas Iyer ahead of the second ODI in Rajkot on Thursday (January 16).
Fast bowling is a demanding exercise and coming through the grind of playing a couple of first-class games would have helped Bumrah to get more game-time and also regain his rhythm.
Imagine pin-drop silence at the stadium and one could feel the fluid strides of a fast bowler flowing through the crease before he delivers the picture-perfect yorker to knock over the stumps and the subsequent celebratory run. It is a vision of excellence where the fast bowler blends hours of practice with execution. Bumrah on song has attained that kind of an elevated level. And with some big-ticket series including the T20 World Cup on the horizon, the Indian camp would hope for him to get back to his best.