Shashwat Kumar was in Mumbai to witness Umran Malik break the game open with a 155kph thunderbolt. And after another rapid spell at Pune, there is an argument to persist with him, despite the likelihood of the odd expensive spell.
There is just something about express pace. Only a handful of bowlers can routinely hurry the best batters on the planet. Even among those, only a few can bowl the ball in the right areas and force the batters into playing strokes they ordinarily would not. That, of course, comes with a risk, for more pace means that the ball can fly off the bat more often. But when such speedsters get it right, the result is resounding, both in terms of the problems they cause, and the spectacle they create.
Umran, so far, has shown that he is capable of taking wickets at international level. At Mumbai, he hurried Charith Asalanka into a pull, inducing a top edge. Later in the innings, he cranked it up to 155 kph, and dismissed Dasun Shanaka, tilting the scales in India’s favour.
At Pune, he conceded 48 runs but ended up with his best T20I figures. The three wickets he took were of Bhanuka Rajapaksa, Wanindu Hasaranga and Asalanka – all dangerous players. Yet, each seemed taken aback when forced to make split-second decisions against Umran’s searing pace.
There was variety in the wickets too. Rajapaksa tried to defend but was so late on the ball that it kissed the inside edge and smashed into the stumps. Asalanka backed away, swiped and miscued his shot straight to deep mid-wicket. Hasaranga was hanging back in his crease, only for Umran to pitch the ball on a length, nip it past his outside edge and flatten off-stump.
These scalps also indicated that Umran knew how to set batters up. This was then followed by a 21-run 18th over, which illustrated that there is plenty of work still to be done. But if a bowler can rip the game open, just by bowling quick and clouding the thought-process of the batters, the concession of runs is maybe a good enough trade-off.
Haris Rauf and Mark Wood, long considered two of the fastest bowlers in the world, also have an economy rate in excess of 8 in T20Is. Umran has an economy rate of 11, although he has only played five matches. His strike rate (14.5), though, is what must be used as a yardstick, for his primary duty should be to pick up wickets, and on a good day, pick them up in a bunch. It might also be prudent to deploy Umran in the middle overs, considering the fields are spread out and the batters are not throwing their bats at everything. His wickets in the middle overs will reduce the run flow later in the innings – other bowlers will benefit from the inroads that he makes.
Managing Umran, because hardly anyone in India has ever bowled this quick, will also be a challenge. The fields that need to be set, the overs that he needs to be bowling and the plans that need to be formulated will be different from almost every other bowler. Once the team management, the captain and Umran gain greater clarity, though, this could be a magical concoction.
With Hardik Pandya ready to take the new ball, there are signs India are willing to make those accommodations, and that is what they must do now. A pacer of his ilk must be preserved and persisted with.
He is, by no stretch of the imagination, a finished product yet. But just look at him, running like the wind, bowling quicker than the gust, and breathing fire, and you realise why the runs he concedes will always be offset by the possibility of him breaking the game open. Not many in the world can do that. Not at that pace.