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England v India

What’s eating Jasprit Bumrah?

Bumrah 5-7
by Sarah Waris 5 minute read

Jasprit Bumrah, who has played a pivotal role in India’s ascension to a side which can compete in all conditions, has not been at his best ever since his return from a back injury last January. Will he be able to regain his lost mojo or will it threaten his legacy, asks Sarah Waris.

His bowling action prompted Indian fans to call him the country’s own Lasith Malinga as Jasprit Bumrah set the IPL and then the international stage on fire. The hyperextension of his elbow set him apart, but if not for the efforts of the Sri Lankan, who devoted hours to hone Bumrah’s skills in the Mumbai Indians nets, the latter might have never achieved the heights he eventually managed to scale.

From being a raw quick whose career could have gone awry if the coaches had interfered to correct his whippy action to a near-perfect death overs bowler with pin-point yorkers, pace and variations in his arsenal, Bumrah became Virat Kohli’s go-to player across all conditions and situations, before he was bogged down by a back injury late in 2019.

Affecting plenty of fast bowlers in particular, back injuries have often changed the direction of a player’s career but Bumrah was expected to return with full force after a lumbar stress fracture. He had taken 216 international wickets in just 112 games till his injury at an average of 20.72.

He would bounce back, you believed. Till the belief turned into concern.

The effect of a back injury on quicks

During the recent warm-up game against County XI ahead of the Test series against England, Bumrah returned with below-par figures in the first innings, taking 1-29 in 15 overs against limited opposition. Though he did not give away loose balls, he hardly seemed to trouble the combined county side, who looked at ease while defending him. Bumrah looks like a bowler who has lost rhythm, with the injury only adding to his woes.

Back in 2012, Andrew Lepius, in an article on ESPNcricinfo explained how stress fractures are the direct result of excess workload, when stress applied to the body is faster than the bone can strengthen. In Bumrah’s case, experts have always been wary of an injury risk to the Indian. His relatively small run-up means that the lower back takes most of the pressure when he lands, which puts him at a greater risk of injuries. Thus, returning after a back injury can be tougher for a quick as they might have trouble bending just before delivering a ball.

Glenn McGrath had reckoned that Bumra’s career post injury would be the “making of him” in an exclusive interview with ESPNcricinfo. “It comes back to the individual and how well he knows himself and how well he has done previously. Jasprit Bumrah, he’s still quite young and he’s got a couple of good seasons, but this would be the making of him.”

Since his return, Bumrah has picked up just five ODI wickets at an average of 96.40 and a strike-rate of 102.8. Though he has better numbers in T20Is, his decline in Test cricket remains the biggest worry. The seamer has 21 wickets in eight Tests at an average of 34.95, well below his career average of 23.21 in the format. His lack of rhythm was on display in the recent World Test Championship final, where he was insipid and could easily be termed as the most ineffective pacer across both teams. India’s trump card never really showed up.

He is bowling shorter as well, which allowed Kane Williamson to play Bumrah with ease during the WTC final. Bowling short has also reduced the number of lbw dismissals, which have constituted 31.3 per cent of his Test wickets thus far, besides removing any late swing that he could have otherwise generated.

Not all gloom for Bumrah and India

Bumrah, despite his sub-par numbers in the last few months, has bowled some spectacular spells, none more memorable than the one he sent down at the Boxing Day Test match in December in 2020. According to CricViz, he bowled 56 per cent of his deliveries on a good line and length on the first day of that Test. Despite getting just 0.8 degrees of swing and seam — the least by any Indian quick — Bumrah remained accurate, with his angle making him a threat.

The Indian has displayed signs of excellence in the recent past, and though they have been followed by ordinary spells, the reputation of Bumrah allows us to believe that he is undergoing a tough phase that can be overturned sooner than later. Maybe a county stint will resurrect his career, or maybe all he needs is just another session with his mentor Malinga, who can help make a champion of Bumrah again.

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