Wright, Malinga, Johnson, Bond: How the stars aligned for Jasprit Bumrah

A conscientious boy’s fierce desire to bowl fast erases the deep-seated inferiority complex of a pace-impoverished cricketing nation. That’s a short synopsis of the Jasprit Bumrah story. For fans of the long read, it’s a tale of a series of fortuitous happenstance and good fortune. For the boy who lost his father early in life, fate had placed guardian angels at every fork he encountered while negotiating the complex maze that is Indian cricket. By developing into an all-format match winner, Bumrah has proved that the faith invested in him wasn’t misplaced. His elevation to vice-captain of the ODI team, over other contenders, is testament to his potential as a leader and being a quick thinker.

What are the chances that one of world cricket’s sharpest talent-spotters would hand-pick a gifted player from one of Indian domestic cricket’s unglamorous teams?

John Wright (File)

John Wright, the man credited with Indian cricket’s big leap at the start of this century, had traveled close to 12,000 km from Christchurch to Pune for a limited overs first-class game between Mumbai and Bumrah’s Gujarat. Working for the IPL franchise Mumbai Indians, Wright was there to check the pre-tournament form and fitness of the many MI boys in the Mumbai team. He would go beyond his brief on sighting a lanky teenager with deceptive pace. Even back then, Bumrah would trouble batsmen with his disconcerting bounce by bringing down his ramrod straight bowling arm with fury. The friendly Kiwi’s one-time ward, from his days as India coach and Gujarat skipper, Parthiv Patel would convey Wright’s interest to Bumrah. “Yeah, right,” smirked the Sikh boy, popularly known as Sardar Patel in the Gujarat dressing room full of Patels. That wasn’t another locker-room prank, Patel was in fact informing Bumrah that henceforth he could avoid the stairs as the elevator door had opened for him.

What are the chances that Bumrah would get mentored by the best-in-business bowler who, like him, had an unconventional bowling style?

Lasith Malinga (File)

Lasith Malinga, the senior pro at Mumbai Indians, would take an instant liking for the boy who never got tired of asking questions. Very early during the apprenticeship, the original yorker king would tell the rookie: “Don’t worry, I will teach you everything.” In the days to follow, the base of the stumps and batsmen’s toes would bear the brunt at MI nets. The quick-learner Bumrah would slowly but surely get Malinga-like control and accuracy. As promised the Sri Lankan would teach him everything, even the magical art of delivering that delicate off-cutter without giving a clue to the batsman – no change of grip, no seam position modification, not even a glint of mischief in eyes.

What are the chances that Bumrah would get to spend months with his boyhood hero, someone he had watched on loop when growing up and even aped when playing tennis-ball cricket in the parking space of his housing complex?

Mitchell Johnson (File)

As if MI was signing players keeping in mind Project Bumrah, the world’s foremost bowler with slingy action Mitchell Johnson would also land at Wankhede. Once during nets, the young Bumrah, eager to impress his idol, would bowl a mean short ball to Johnson. The Aussie old-hand would miss the line and his helmet would go in a spin around his head. In the dressing room later, Johnson would politely ask Bumrah about his batting schedule. “Why?,” the young lad, overwhelmed to get the attention of the legend, would ask.

The story goes that Bumrah never batted at nets that season. He would sneak up to Johnson, follow him like a kitten. The two would laugh and have conversations. That IPL would end with the ever-bulging Bumrah arsenal getting stockpiled with a lethal short ball.

What are the chances that the injury-prone Bumrah would be under the wings of a bowling coach with a master’s degree in art of recovery and rehabilitation?

Shane Bond (File)

There aren’t many muscles in one-time world’s fastest bowler Shane Bond’s body that haven’t suffered a tear or bones without stress fracture trauma. Because of the explosive landing of his foot in the final stride and shoulder shaking whiplash action, Bumrah’s best friends in most teams have been the masseur, trainers and physios. The Kiwi legend has been a long-time MI bowling coach, another crucial star beautifully aligning with the perfect constellation that supported Bumrah’s rise. Bond would share his wisdom and positivity about injury management with the young speedster with a long association with orthopedics. Being part of a franchise known to keep players in cotton wool and refreshingly sensitive to their wellness also helped. MI owners are into the health care business and also run Mumbai’s ultra-modern hospital. Bumrah was in the right hands and also at the right place at the right time.

What are the chances that a young IPL MVP with multi-million dollar contracts would want to bowl 20-plus overs a day in Tests and risk injury?

Fortunately for Indian cricket, very early in his career, Bumrah, like Virat Kohli, showed the obsession to excel in red-ball cricket. With India’s No.1 bowler and batsman openly expressing their undying love for Test cricket, India got a team culture that valued playing in whites. The glee on Kohli’s face when Bumrah would bounce-out the rival batsmen on spicy wickets in Australia, England and South Africa showed India’s plan to change their dubious away record, was working. Bumrah’s efforts in Tests were never influenced by the IPL schedule. He gave it all and if that meant injury he didn’t care.

A heart-warming Instagram chat during lockdown between Yuvraj Singh and Bumrah gave an idea about the priorities and the ethics of this once-a-generation pacer. In hindsight, it also explains the selection committee’s decision to put him in a leadership role.

A known skeptic of Gen Next’s affinity for Tests Yuvraj asked the young pacer about the atmosphere in the India dressing room where youngsters, he had heard, were happy with just IPL contracts. “It’s a sad reality. Many bowlers come to me and say we are fine with ODIs, T20 and how they want an IPL contract. But they forget that without Tests, you can’t be a complete cricketer”.

He would also go on to bust the myth that it was IPL that provided him the international breakthrough. “I joined IPL in 2013, for the next 3 years I would get 2, 10, or 4 games. That’s when I played Vijay Hazare, Ranji Trophy and got into the India team in 2016. And it was only after that I played a complete IPL season.”

Bumrah would share with Yuvraj the life lessons he learnt from cricket. “Youngsters these days hope to get validation from social media, they want their fan clubs. They want people to praise them. But you don’t get good because of people’s praise. For me the validation of the world, praise or criticism, doesn’t change my perspective. Opinion in cricket changes every three hours, that shouldn’t change my mind set.”

Yuvraj nods his head to say, “Dekhiye sub, 25 saal ka ladka kitne mature baatein kar raha hai. That is the reason I want to talk to this guy and I hope a lot of young kids are listening.” That is also the reason Bumrah is the ODI vice-captain for the South Africa series.

Once during another interview, Bumrah was asked: What was the one priceless thing that he gave his mother. The question was part of a rapid-fire round, the popular quick Q&A format designed to incite laughs. The boy who had seen the struggles of his working mother, who raised him and his sister single-handedly, thought for a while and uttered a single word: “Security”.

As happy coincidences go, it’s the same priceless thing he has given to the Indian cricket team when they travel abroad.

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