Jasprit Bumrah leads India’s band of bowlers to greater heights

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By Mahtab Ahmad

There were no frantic gesticulations from Rohit Sharma to move his fielders around. Nor did the senior players converge on the bowlers after every delivery to counsel them on what to bowl.

Jasprit Bumrah produced an incredible spell against Pakistan.(AFP)
Jasprit Bumrah produced an incredible spell against Pakistan.(AFP)

When there are only 119 runs to defend, the final few overs tend to witness chaotic scenes and prolonged deliberations that threaten to cloud the judgment of the bowlers running in to deliver. At the Nassau County International Cricket Stadium against Pakistan on Sunday, India’s six bowlers, however, never betrayed a sense of panic about the situation at hand. The outcome was a thoroughly clinical display that saw India restrict Pakistan to 113/7 in 20 overs for a six-run victory in a Group A clash of the T20 World Cup.

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Usually a low-scoring total may leave the team defending it with no option but to blast through the opposition with early wickets. This wasn’t that sort of a game because this wasn’t that sort of a pitch. This was all about attrition and taking the game deep as a bowling unit by constantly building pressure and not giving away easy boundaries.

India’s bowlers, accustomed to intense pressure thanks to their vast IPL experience, operated like a band in harmony and executed their plans to near perfection. Jasprit Bumrah was predictably the lead artist, underling his supremacy for the umpteenth time with a nerveless display that culminated in figures of 4-0-14-3. Contrary to the 1990s and early 2000s when India would envy Pakistan’s firebrand pack of pace bowlers, it is Bumrah who is the cynosure of the fast-bowling universe right now.

But Bumrah’s genius alone wouldn’t have cut it on Sunday, not when Pakistan’s required run rate at the start of the chase was just six per over. Arshdeep Singh, Mohammed Siraj, Hardik Pandya, Axar Patel and Ravindra Jadeja needed to play their part too. They ensured that this was the joint-lowest total successfully defended in T20 World Cup history.

Yes, the slow surface — not desirable for a T20 game — meant that bowlers from both teams had the upper hand right through the contest. So although India reached 81/3 in their first ten overs, Pakistan’s bowlers were able to pull things back and restrict them to 119. But the very fact that Pakistan were batting second should have enabled them to pick and choose the bowlers and moments to target.

They still fell short. While India’s bowlers didn’t produce any magic balls, their discipline in ensuring that Pakistan never ran away with the chase was pivotal. Arshdeep’s first over didn’t quite set the tone, beginning with drivable deliveries outside off that Mohammad Rizwan and Babar Azam struck for three runs each on a heavy outfield. But quickly, all of India’s bowlers gauged that they didn’t have to go searching for wickets.

Bumrah exemplified this mindset, banging the ball at a hard length and leaving Azam in two minds whether to play or leave. Babar ultimately chose to play, and much to his anguish, nicked the ball to Suryakumar Yadav at slip. It is what makes Bumrah the bowler he is, never seeking the magic ball and yet delivering it routinely. Mohammed Siraj was an able ally in ramping up the pressure in early overs, bowling an opening spell of 3-0-10-0. As data from CricViz shows, India’s pacers bowled 30% of their deliveries on a hard length, much higher than Pakistan’s 17%.

“Even when there is help, you can be desperate, and you can try to go fuller and try to pull that magic delivery,” Bumrah told reporters after the match. “I tried not to do that but when we came, the swing and seam had reduced. So, we had to be accurate because if we go for magic deliveries and try to be too desperate, run-making becomes easy and they know the target. So, we had to be very mindful of not overdoing it and yes add up pressure, use the big boundaries, try to use things to our advantage. That is what we were doing. So, in that we created pressure, and everybody got wickets.”

The collective effort seemed to coerce Pakistan into making rash decisions. After 14 overs, Pakistan were 80/3, needing 40 off 36 balls, with Rizwan still in. The situation called for the opener, who had taken 43 balls to reach 31, to bat through to the end while the other Pakistan batters went for their shots. Instead, Rizwan played a logic-defying slog across the line and missed to give Bumrah his second wicket.

Pandya’s contribution as the fourth seamer was no less significant on the day. While he is theoretically India’s sixth bowling option and needed only when one of the main bowlers have an off-day, Rohit was alert to Pandya’s effectiveness on this track and used him in four one-over spells. Pandya justified that trust, conceding only 24 runs in his four overs and claiming the scalps of Fakhar Zaman and Shadab Khan. Known to vary his lengths and pace, Pandya’s speeds ranged from 114.1km/h to 139.9km/h.

This performance will fill India with plenty of confidence, particularly after an IPL season where predominantly flat pitches led to the bowling tribe being treated with disdain.

“Obviously, the IPL that we played was not very bowler-friendly but we are very happy that we didn’t come here with that baggage. When we are getting help here, we are trying to use it. When the bat and ball challenge is good, it is more interesting to watch the match. When it’s bat vs bat, I switch off the TV,” Bumrah said matter-of-factly.

The caning some of India’s bowlers took in the IPL notwithstanding, this department has stood them in good stead of late. At last year’s ODI World Cup at home, the Bumrah-led bowling attack was often the difference between victory and defeat. A repeat of that could be on the cards if the pitches continue playing as they have.

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