In the days preceding social media, cricket was the biggest factor connecting India and Pakistan, and one popular conversation at the time (well, much-discussed to date) was: what if we could combine the two teams? Take bowlers from Pakistan – the Akhtars and the Akrams – and batters from India – the Tendulkars and the Dravids. It was one of our pastimes to think of the possible combinations, everyone had their own playing XI.
It made sense why. It was reassuring to think of such a collaboration. The difference between countries and cricket is that one has borders, and the other, a boundary – and boundaries are usually more forgiving.
That thought, internalised to a large extent, still generates excitement after all these years. However, it often led to a sub-discussion that we were never a ‘bowlers’ squad’.
That sounds like a harsh sentiment for a side that hosted players like Venkatesh Prasad, Anil Kumble, Bishen Singh Bedi and Bhagwat Chandrasekhar, among others, but one has to understand that while there are no questions about their individual talents – as a collective, they did not induce fear.
In fact, ‘unplayability’ is something that was novel to the Indian side until a few years ago. What changed? Speed. We had some good fast-bowlers before, like Zaheer Khan, but around the end of 2017, we found a fast-bowling unit. The pacers took over. Slowly. How ironic.
Though, to be fair, it only seems gradual. In hindsight, to anyone keeping a close eye, it was evident that the pace attack is going to be Indian cricket’s next big revolution. It’s something that this generation of fans will talk, and hopefully, write about. The way (relatively) older ones among us talk about the batting stability Dravid and Laxman brought in the early 2000s and the miracles MS Dhoni could perform in the 2010s.
In the World Cup of 2019, our pace attack was so strong, that there were barely any flaws in it. Shami, consistent as ever, saved us from a possible defeat against Afghanistan, and Bhuvneshwar played his part in restricting the opponents in an overall impressive performance.
Meanwhile, Jasprit Bumrah… he was flying, or dancing, however you want to look at it. 3 years on, I am still deciding what discipline of art to associate with him, but I know one thing for sure: bowling, doesn’t encapsulate what he does.
Jasprit Bumrah has changed the language of the sport, and his presence on the team is a constant reminder of why people are tempted to compare cricket to works of literature.
So today, as he becomes the captain of the Test side, even though temporarily, there is much to celebrate. One does not know what will come of this but if there was one player who you’d want to take your chance on, it’s Bumrah.
Bumrah will be leading India in the 5th Test against England and there is criticism of him, in that he does not ‘behave’ like a captain, and I understand where that comes from. In sports, leadership has been accompanied by aggression so often, that it is tough, for many, to imagine Bumrah, a quiet genius as the captain.
However, that is not a very logically sound argument because it’s based on an assumption that could totally prove to be wrong. It’s easy to forget, but aggression does not win you matches, it is merely an aid, a motivation – and if someone can find motivation in calm, it is bound to have the same impact.
Plus, Bumrah can handle responsibility. He has proven that time and again. The Australia tour of 2018, the Cricket World Cup of 2019, the England tour of 2021. Along with Shami, Siraj, and Ishant, he has been the backbone of India’s stable bowling line-up.
The pace triplet at The G. This was such a historic Test. Proud feeling to be a part of this group. Record breaking 130+ wickets in 2018 #TeamIndia @circleofcricket @ESPNcricinfo pic.twitter.com/wYreTY3XtT— Mohammad Shami (@MdShami11) December 30, 2018
I’d excuse a person for not remembering that Bumrah, who played a crucial role in India’s victory Down Under in 2018, made his Test debut the same year.
When he was declared Player of the Match for the historic Boxing Day Test, he had said:
The start has been good, and hopefully, I will keep getting better.
As far as ambitions are concerned, improvement is conventionally the most basic. It is also the most challenging. So, this gives one an idea of Bumrah’s motivations.
I have often thought about what an athlete tells themselves on a daily basis to be able to deal with the pressures of playing for the country. It’s easy to say, in some cases, but with people like Bumrah, you are pretty much working on presumptions.
The neatness of his bowling makes me believe it is not something complicated. That might come in handy for him as a leader.
Rest, we cannot say what is in store, but we do hope that the start is good and hopefully, he keeps getting better.