July 13, 2022: It is difficult to make an assessment of a current player who is just 28 and regard him as an all-time Indian great. But there is no such risk involved in giving Jasprit Bumrah this exalted status. In just six years his manifold achievements have cemented his place as arguably the finest Indian specialist pace bowler already good enough to open the bowling with Kapil Dev in an all-time Indian XI.
The fast bowler (and it is so good to use that term where an Indian is concerned) first attracted attention because of his unusual action but soon there was so much more to admire. His pace, hostility, ability to bowl yorkers at will, the disconcerting bounce he was able to extract from pitches not exactly helpful to bowlers marked him out as a special talent who needed to be nurtured. Fortunately, Bumrah did not take long to establish his credentials and even among the plethora of fast bowlers in the country he has stood out. There is little doubt that he is the best fast bowler across all three formats in the contemporary game and that is saying something for there are a number of outstanding such bowlers around. This quality is noteworthy for each format requires separate skills and to be equally destructive in limited overs cricket and Test matches is a quality that only the best bowlers can possess and Bumrah is the leader of the pack.
While he can be relied upon to excel on any surface, Bumrah can be pretty lethal when it comes to helpful conditions as he unveiled to devastating effect against England at the Oval on Tuesday. It was overcast and there was some grass on the pitch and that was all that Bumrah needed to scythe through even the strong batting line-up. In a sensational opening spell he dismissed Jason Roy, Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow and Liam Livingstone – three of them for ducks – to have figures of 5-2-9-4. He returned to take two more wickets to finish with six for 19 from 7.2 overs – the best figures by an Indian bowler against England in ODIs. The movement he achieved in the air coupled with the pace that he bowled made him unplayable. By the time he had finished with the England batting the match was as good as over. That was Bumrah the match winner the cricketing world knows and admires.
But then Bumrah’s career has been dotted frequently by such outstanding bowling in all three formats though it is probably his bowling in Tests that really stand out. That he has taken 128 wickets from 30 matches is in itself an impressive stat. What embellishes it is the average, strike rate and economy rate. The average (21.99) is something that only the best bowlers can achieve, the strike rate (48.9) is right up there with the greatest of fast bowlers and the economy (2.69) is something unthinkable for a bowler of his pace. It all underlines the fact that he is both incisive, accurate and frequently unplayable. But the stats in the shorter formats of the game are no less remarkable.
Bumrah, only one of three Indian bowlers to take a hat-trick in Tests, is a master of his craft at the peak of his powers. There is just no way of telling how much more he could improve. With all his cheerful demeanor he is deadly with the ball in hand and he will continue to play the role of smiling assassin while shaping some of Indian cricket’s greatest moments.
(Partab Ramchand is a veteran sports journalist, the views expressed here are personal.)