Has the back injury reduced Jasprit Bumrah’s potency or is he being played better?

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The World Test Championship final in Southampton saw a great exhibition of fast bowling. There were seven exceptional quicks to exploit the ‘English conditions’ and make life extremely difficult for the batsmen. Pacers from either side had a collective average of just 23.81 in the Test match. 

In such circumstances, you’d think Jasprit Bumrah would be one of those who excelled and dominated. But he was the only specialist pacer from either side, during the four days of play we witnessed, not to have recorded a single wicket to his name. 

Barring a small passage near the end of Day 3 and then one on Day 6 of the WTC final, Bumrah looked completely off the boil, short of form and rhythm, with his figures – 0/57 and 0/35 – offering a grim look about them considering the conditions they came in. Though he went economical, Bumrah didn’t pose the level of threat he usually does. 

Jasprit Bumrah

Jasprit Bumrah hasn’t been at his best for a while

Partly down to lack of game time heading into or being approached differently by batsmen at the crease – with greater watchfulness – Jasprit Bumrah had none of his usual incisiveness on display throughout the WTC final. 

While one can look at it as a one-off, with Bumrah being inarguably one of the world’s best contemporary pacemen, the struggles in the WTC final do still reinforce a sense of worry around him at this stage of his career. 

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Since going down with a lower back injury – the one that has damaged many fast-bowlers’ careers by reducing their potency – Bumrah hasn’t been the same bowler, who carried a certain streak of invincibility about him. 

Bumrah’s nine ODIs since the start of 2020 have seen him take only five wickets at a shocking 96.40 per piece with an economy rate of 5.62 (it is 4.65 in his overall career). In the same period,  though Bumrah’s T20I numbers retain a positive outlook – 8 wickets at an economy rate of 6.38 from 8 matches – he was taken for plenty in the death during the series in New Zealand last year. But it is in Tests where the difference has been the most eye-catching. 

 

Bumrah boasts of an average of 33.28 in the 8 Tests played since his comeback, which is higher by almost 14 runs than his pre-2020 avatar. The sample size of Tests may be small, but it is evident that Bumrah hasn’t been performing at his absolute best since the back injury. 

Has the back injury reduced Jasprit Bumrah’s potency or he is being played better?

So is Jasprit Bumrah feeling the after-effects of a back injury, accentuated by the extended gap between games during this pandemic? One of the basic impacts of a back injury to a fast bowler is that you lose a certain amount of strength (or pace) behind your deliveries at various lengths. The strain in the back makes bending through the action more of a task and your full balls tend to float and the short ones don’t jump on the batsman as they did. 

Former pacers, who call the game behind the mic, have always been vocal about the vulnerabilities of Bumrah’s unique action. His small strides through the run-up, with the upper body doing most of the work (and taking all the pressure), makes him injury-prone – something the great Michael Holding talked about in detail when he first saw Bumrah operate. 

Jasprit Bumrah

Jasprit Bumrah looked off rhythm during the WTC final versus New Zealand

The comments on his action and the way he gets into his delivery stride have never really fazed Bumrah, though. He has time and again stated it as a natural aspect of his bowling, which has stayed with him since he starting playing at the junior levels, and has asserted he wouldn’t like to change it. 

But while Bumrah’s reservation to outside opinions is understandable, a closer look at his bowling in the WTC final suggested a lack of sharpness to his deliveries. In the air or off the deck, whatever Bumrah threw at the batsman in Southampton didn’t seem to carry the kind of venom associated with him from his early couple of seasons. 

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Lack of rhythm or back injury aside, this could also be down to the fact that batsmen are now so much more adept at facing Bumrah, especially sighting his release points. One of the most difficult aspects of taking on Bumrah in his early days was to gauge the length of the ball from his action – which, with his hand movements giving nothing away, became an arduous task. The different postures he creates within an action meant batsmen had to wait extra milliseconds in picking the angle of release, the seam position and were found late on the ball as it arrived. 

Now, though, when the ball reaches them, batsmen don’t anymore give the impression that they are caught off guard. With extensive video analysis and their own improved ability to not let the hand movements blur the process of identifying release-points and thus the line and length, batsmen retain their balance, stillness, focus and play at correctly assumed angles. 

This was visibly in play on Day 6 when Kane Williamson faced Bumrah, who generated nearly the highest amount of seam movement as per Cricviz among Indian pacers but not once got the great Kiwi batsman’s nick outside off. One can put this down to the shortness of length as well, considering also Bumrah is more a hit-the-deck seamer than a swing bowler, but the way Williamson never once played at the wrong line in that spell was quite reflective. 

Bumrah is too good a bowler for these issues to persist too long, but he is undoubtedly also a concern at this stage. India need their ace quick back to his lethal best as they go deeper into the challenging English summer. 

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A cricket writer by heart and profession. Currently at work for CricXtasy. Previously with Circle of Cricket. You can find him on Twitter @crickashish217