By dismissing Ollie Pope in England’s second innings at The Oval, Jasprit Bumrah became the quickest Indian fast bowler to reach the milestone of 100 Test wickets. Cameron Ponsonby gives his take on a bowler like no other.
TV spoils us. It gives us unprecedented access to sports we love and slows the action down so we can see every moment, movement and facial expression of our heroes and our enemies. To watch an event live is to see it with your own eyes, but to watch it on TV is to watch with the eyes of thousands. Did you see that? No? Don’t worry, because we did. Here it is frame by frame.
But it also sterilises. The problem with such amazing access is, counterintuitively, that it makes you feel within touching distance of the professional game.
“How’s he missed that?” You ask with a gob full of Doritos as the 90mph delivery clean bowls the professional batter.
It’s a problem that Formula 1 is also currently dealing with. That the coverage is, if anything, too good. That the camerawork too steady that a car travelling 200mph can look pedestrian and the skill of driving an F1 car, simple. I’m as guilty as anyone of this. I’m 26, I’ve been go-karting twice and there’s still a part of me that thinks I could be an F1 driver. Why not? Looks easy.
It’s why one of my favourite experiences when attending Test match cricket is the crash back to reality when the true speed of the game hits you. It’s all well and good watching via a camera, or even at the ground if you’re sat behind the bowlers’ arm and able to track the ball coming towards or away from you. But five rows back, when you’re square of the wicket and trying to spot a red dot flash across the 22 yards in the middle? Yeah, maybe I wouldn’t be able to play that and maybe I’m not going to be an F1 driver either.
The truth is that I really like that feeling. Because whilst the ego in me as a club cricketer wants to feel close to the game, the fan in me wants to feel a million miles away. I want to marvel. I want to think it’s alien and I want to think how on earth have they done that rather than pffff…reckon I could’ve done that.
Jasprit Bumrah makes me feel like a fan. This Test was the first time I’d seen him bowl in person and it was so far from what I recognised as the sport I know and love. TV had told me that his run-up was bizarre, I knew that. That he walked in a bit, then hopped around a bit before finally actually running in and bowling it at 90mph.
But it hadn’t told me that he walks in so far that TV has to cut out the first bit. And that he then jumps up and down for a decade until he gets so close to the stumps that you want to yell out as if he was getting too close to a cliff edge. And then just at the last conceivable moment, with a contorted hop, skip and a jump when he’s about three yards away from the crease does he actually begin any sort of momentum. It’s unfathomable. A bowler made up of three equal parts Greg Rutherford, Peter Rabbit and Curtly Ambrose.
On day five of The Oval Test, on a flat surface, Bumrah produced two moments of magic to dismiss both Ollie Pope and Jonny Bairstow. In a sport where rhythm as a batter counts for so much, facing Bumrah must be intolerable. Every ball giving you that sensation of the time between someone counting down unevenly from five to one. Fiiiiiiiiiiiive……..foooooooooooooooour…..thrrrrrrrrreeeeeeeee…two-one-go. He’s the teacher who thinks they’re funny at school sports day or Tess Daly announcing who’s got booted off of Strictly. Just tell me, just say it, just bo…ooooh my god it’s arrived.
The result is a bowler who has gone to 100 Test wickets in just his 24th Test and taken those at an average of 22.79. If he maintains those numbers, then in ten years’ time we’ll be discussing an all-time great of the game. But for now, it doesn’t matter.
To be at the ground in person isn’t to see things in greater clarity than what you see through the TV, but to witness the things you otherwise don’t get to. I’ve watched Bumrah run into bowl hundreds of times in my life. I’ve seen split screens and slow motions from seven thousand angles that focus on his elbow, his point of release, his windmilling arms and unorthodox run-up. And yet, in person, I’d never seen anything like it. And as a fan, that’s all I could ever want.