Birmingham, July 3: They once used to say, 'If Lillee don’t get you, Thommo will.”
Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami aren’t quite Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson yet – who knows if they will ever get there, in fact – but they are quite a strike-force, capable of working batsmen over both in tandem and on their own.
Shami was a late entrant into the World Cup eleven, having ceded first-choice status to swing exponent Bhuvneshwar Kumar whose lower-order batting is an added bonus. Bumrah, of course, is the top-ranked bowler in One-Day International cricket, and has wasted little time in showing why he enjoys that coveted status.
Once Shami did break into the side following a hamstring injury to Bhuvneshwar, he was quickly into his stride. Four wickets each against Afghanistan and West Indies set up him for the tournament, and when he followed it up with his maiden five-for against England on Sunday, everything seemed to have fallen nicely in place for the Bengal quick who has put the travails of a difficult phase behind him.
Shami’s inconsistencies, however, reared their head from towards the closing stages of that England innings. Having taken four for 25 in his first seven overs, he was clobbered for 44 in the last three by Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler. At least then, it was clear that his plans were in place, even if the execution of the yorkers went awry. Shami sent down a series of full-pitches disdainfully despatched for a succession of boundaries by the two powerful ball-strikers.
On Tuesday against Bangladesh, Shami was taken apart by Sabbir Rahman and Mohammad Saifuddin, hardly names to strike fear in the hearts of bowlers. He was his usual aggressive, parsimonious, dangerous self for the first six overs, after which he had figures of one for 33. His seventh went for 17, eighth for 11; disappointingly, he erred on both sides of the wicket, and his length was either too short or too full. A game that seemed headed comfortably India’s way slowly started to assume a different hue, and Virat Kohli’s displeasure at the lack of a clear game plan from his senior paceman was just simmering below the surface.
Kohli, though, knew that he had the ever-bankable bond in Bumrah. It has been a strange old campaign for the man from Gujarat, who has bowled brilliantly almost every game without commensurate reward. He did look slightly off the boil during brief spells against Australia and Pakistan, but for the large part, his consistency has been staggering. Among the 19 bowlers with 10 or more wickets, his economy of 4.60 is second only to Trent Boult (4.55). He now has the same number of wickets as Shami (14), following his nerve-settling burst of four for 55 on Tuesday (July 2) to nip the Bangladeshi challenge in the bud.
Self-effacing and with no airs about him, Bumrah is the quintessential boy-next-door who finds pleasure in the everyday things. His enthusiasm is boundless, his energy infectious; when he talks about the privilege of representing the country, it’s less practiced cliché and more a true reflection of what’s going on in his mind.
Unlike his thinking, his bowling is very complex and complicated. His changes of pace come without a statutory warning, his yorkers zero in on toes as if radar-directed -- Vijay Shankar, anyone? His ambling, shuffling walk followed by a short charge to the crease hardly scream out for attention, but when the ball leaves his elevated right hand and starts its journey towards the other end, batsmen are transfixed like rabbits in a headlight.
His first wicket on Tuesday came off a slower delivery that defeated Sabbir’s hoick and rattled leg-stump. The next arrived courtesy a beautifully disguised cutter which Mosaddek Hossain guided on to his sticks. The coup de grace was delivered with his final two deliveries, screaming yorkers that Rubel Hossain and Mustafizur Rahman simply found too hot to handle. What’s the fuss about, he might have asked. Tight finish? Really? Take this.
Take it, India certainly did, with no little gratitude. Before you could say Jasprit Bumrah world No. 1, it was all over. Finally, the rewards for persistence, sincerity, clarity of thought and impeccability of execution came gushing forth. Bhuvneshwar and Shami might be the more experienced, but their junior colleague is the more lethal. In a crisis, he is Kohli’s go-to man. He is the undisputed leader of the pack. And yes, if Shami don’t get you, he surely will.
(R Kaushik is a cricket writer who has followed the sport closely for nearly three decades, and is covering his seventh World Cup)