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IPL 2024

Why has Umran Malik, India’s other 155 kph fast bowling beast, slipped away from the spotlight?

Mayank Yadav’s sensational rise has excited cricket fans but not long ago there was another fast bowler who was touted as a generational talent.
Sarah Waris by Sarah Waris
@swaris16 4 minute read

Mayank Yadav’s sensational rise has excited cricket fans but not long ago there was a fast bowler who was touted as another generational talent. Sarah Waris charts the rise and the dip of Umran Malik, and wonders what his story might have in store next.

When Umran Malik was bowling against RCB in 2021, the cameras would often pan to and fro between the bowler and Virat Kohli, who, at one point was gaping in bewilderment at the genuine pace the quick was able to generate. Credited with revolutionising the fast bowling culture in Indian Test cricket, then-India captain Kohli, who was in the opposition camp, looked on in wonder, probably envisioning a future scenario where a charged-up Malik was spitting fire for India, his pacey yorkers breaking the stumps of the tumbling batters, who would be caught in the awkward position of prostrating to the bowler for his skills while also looking to stand back upright to salvage any bit of self-esteem they had left.

Malik aroused every Indian cricket watcher, building them up with dreams and fantasies soon after his emergence but vanished soon after, leaving them high-and-dry and unsatisfied, alone to analyse what might have been.

Heralding from Gujjar Nagar in Jammu, Malik was a lone shaft of light at the end of a torrid 2021 IPL season for Sunrisers Hyderabad. He was not even in the squad to begin with, handed a chance only as a short-term Covid replacement for T Natarajan. They had won just two of their first 11 games when he was given his debut, and though that game was another loss, he impressed with his speed, finishing with 0-27. His second game was that RCB fixture, in which he claimed 1-21, and SRH claimed a rare win. More importantly, Malik had bowled his way to a permanent deal.

He was fast-tracked into red-ball consideration. Malik made his first-class debut in 2021 for India A against South Africa A in Bloemfontein, where he picked up the big wicket of centurion Tony de Zorzi. However, he was expensive, conceding 90 runs in his 21 overs. He made his Ranji debut that season too, getting six wickets in two games, including 3-89 in his debut innings against Puducherry.

In 2022, he backed up his explosive start, picking up 22 wickets at an average of 20.18 with a five-wicket haul. It was also the season he clocked 157kph on the speed guns, making him officially India’s fastest bowler in the league’s history, and likely their fastest of all time. Though he struggled with his economy rate of 9.03, Malik’s pace made him a special talent. He also had limited domestic games under his belt and was learning on the go and many believed he could learn the art of accurate line and length from specialised coaches.

Malik made his international debut later that year. In his second T20I, against Ireland, he held his nerve and defended eight off the final three balls. Malik made his ODI debut against New Zealand in November, dismissing Devon Conway and Daryl Mitchell to end as the most successful bowler for the team. He had an economy rate of 6.60, though.

The expensive tag began to stick. In 10 ODIs, he grabbed 13 wickets at a strike rate of 28.1 and had an economy rate of 6.54, which rose to 10.48 in eight T20Is. He picked up a wicket every 12.6 balls in the shortest format but conceded over 10 runs an over in six innings.

Malik’s domestic performances remained unimpressive as well. In the last two seasons of the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, he has taken 14 wickets in 14 games at an economy rate of 8.18. He has played only one List A game in this period, while he averaged 41.60 in the Ranji Trophy in the last two editions and took part in only two matches this year after suffering from a foot injury.

He also has played only three India A games, the last of which came in September 2022 against New Zealand A and he was not picked for the England A series earlier this year.

Malik’s IPL career has also witnessed a downward spiral. He played only eight games last year, picking five wickets, with captain Aiden Markram revealing he was unsure why the quick was not a part of their plans. He has played one game this year thus far.

Former India seamer RP Singh, speaking on Jio Cinema, shed light on what could be ailing Malik. “I will still say, his biggest advantage is his pace. The problem is the skill. The movement isn’t much right now, and planning the game (needs to improve). You also have to set batters up. He hasn’t learnt that as quickly as he should have. He concedes runs, that remains the biggest worry.”

To work on his weaknesses, Malik has started working with his Ranji Trophy coach P. Krishnakumar, learning the benefits of pitching the ball up and swinging it both ways at his speed. Malik, who has also not received any formal training or coaching in fast bowling in his childhood, is also being sent a video of a legendary fast bowler every day by Krishnakumar, which will help Malik learn the benefits of pitching the ball in the right area. “We had a long chat,” he was quoted as saying in The Hindu. “He has played for India, he knows everything. It was more about changing his mindset. That was very important. Because he had the mindset, ‘I will bowl quick.’ At the end of the day, the right-hand column (wickets column in the bowling analysis) is very important in Indian cricket. We go by quantity.

“What I did was, I sent him almost 100 videos – of (James) Anderson, of (Andrew) Flintoff, and all the great bowlers. I forced him to think. You have to pitch it up there if you want to take wickets in international cricket. Almost every day, he was getting a video. So, then, it changes the mindset.”

Malik has not played for India since July 2023 and is unlikely to make the 2024 T20 World Cup squad either, but he has not been left in the lurch with the BCCI giving him one of the four fast bowling contracts, which will allow him to not only get a retainer but also allow him access to the NCA training facilities and insurance benefits. He is still a work in progress and still needs major improvement but the mere thought of him bowling in tandem with Mayank and Jasprit Bumrah sooner than later remains thrilling.

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