April 26, 2022: The most talked about cricketer in the land hasn’t played a Test, or an ODI or even a T-20 international. He has played just three first class games. But he is excelling in the IPL and given the status and popularity of the tournament he is certainly garnering a lot of attention.
But wait. There is another reason why he is the subject of intense discussion among fans and experts alike. He is a fast bowler. And by that, I mean really quick. The shortest format of the game is perhaps not the ideal one to be bowling at speeds approaching the 150 kmph mark – and at times even going beyond that. At that pace the bowler can be guilty of spraying the ball all over the place – criminal in T-20. But then Umran Malik is not just another young bowler who loves to hurtle them down and make the batsman at the crease hop around in palpable discomfort. He is really fast, full of raw pace and that alone can be disconcerting for the best of batsmen.
Already he is being compared to the greats of fast bowling. That could be dangerous for there is always the possibility of the young man turning out to be a meteor. Somehow though Umran doesn’t give that impression. He is a genuinely exciting prospect who deserves an early break in international cricket.
At 22 the Srinagar born Umran has time on his side. He can develop into the biggest thing in Indian cricket. There have been bowlers before who have generated a lot of speed and Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Varun Aaron and Jasprit Bumrah come immediately to mind. But they have delivered spells of really fast bowling not as constantly as Umran. For example, over 90 percent of his deliveries in the IPL have been clocked in excess of 140 kmph and that is consistency personified. Already the discussion around him centers round one simple query: “Is Umran Malik the fastest bowler India has ever produced?” And this is not an idle, wasteful question.
An astonishing aspect of Umran’s cricket is that he didn’t touch a cricket ball till he was 17. That makes his rise truly sensational. But the all-important question today is – what happens now? While he can send down the yorkers and bouncers that have batsmen hopping about at his age he can also be profligate. This is the stage when he needs guidance for he is a prodigious talent that has to be nurtured. And with Dale Steyn as his coach in the Sunrisers Hyderabad dugout he has just the man to show him the way forward. Besides a knowledgeable coach he also needs an understanding captain and Malik has that too in Kane Williamson who has already called him “very special”. Of course, like any fast bowler Umran has to have a big heart for there will be days when mishits can go into the stands and that’s when he will have to maintain his composure. That’s when you need the captain and the coach to tell you “don’t worry, keep bowling fast for you are a fast bowler”.
Yes, there should be no compromise on that. Sheer pace is arguably cricket’s most potent weapon and Indian cricket is fortunate to have a thrilling prospect in Umran around. An exceptional talent like him should be blooded quickly and the selectors have an opportunity with the T-20 home series against South Africa coming up shortly.
(Partab Ramchand is a veteran sports journalist, the views expressed here are personal.)