It’s not that Keshav Maharaj was not aware what Jasprit Bumrah is upto. From the moment Maharaj walked in as South Africa’s nightwatchman late on Day 4 in the Centurion Test, he knew that dreaded yorker is coming. Bumrah had made it pretty evident with a plethora of bouncers before. The idea was to push the tailender back and feed on his scrambled footwork with a full, straight ball at the base of the stumps.
A little prior to the wicket ball, Bumrah had already sent one thunderbolt near Maharaj’s pads. But the stoic lower-order batter was able to keep that one out. It is at this point, somewhere while going back to his mark, even the ace bowler would’ve nodded in approval of Maharaj’s fortitude.
But death, taxes and Bumrah are inevitable. His second punch was so much more accurate, so much more lethal that even the courageous Maharaj had no chance. It was a perfect yorker meant to get best of players out. The nightwatchman succeeded, in that he managed to ensure the next specialist batter doesn’t have to come in. But Maharaj lost his little battle with Bumrah, who has now grown into an impeccable force at the peak of his prowess.
Even in what is a bowling era, lesser fast-bowlers offer you a window of opening as a batter. They maybe quick, but lack the control and the consistency. They may swing the ball, but not seam it enough off the straight. Their pace may push you back, but their bouncer is not incisive enough to play on your psyche and your footwork. Bumrah does it all, does it with a high-arm release, an innocuous action, at great speeds with remarkable accuracy and the fitness and composure needed to trust his plans to bear fruits for that much longer than others. It’s an astonishing combo.
His presence gives India the edge to cover all bases within one bowler, one body.
Bumrah can bowl both with the new ball and the old ball. On spicy pitches and on dying tracks. With the Kookaburra, the SG, the Dukes. He offers you a potent wicket-taking threat, the leash and the control. He can bowl various angles through the crease, bring the ball in, take it away. In the air, off the deck… you just name it, and Bumrah will do it.
It’s mindboggling that Bumrah has developed into this bowler in less than three years. At the Test level, you come across bowlers who are too good for first-class cricket. In Bumrah, certainly at his best, we tend to witness a bowler too good for Test cricket. A perfect quick who doesn’t give you an inch. How do you beat him?
Jasprit Bumrah: an impeccable force
In this Boxing Day Test, the only phase that South Africa looked in any sort of control and grip over the contest is when Bumrah twisted his ankle going for a stop and had to be taken out for rehab work. When the in-form Mohammad Shami got tired and rested between spells, South Africa took good advantage of the inconsistency on display from both Mohammed Siraj and Shardul Thakur, especially Thakur, who took 2 partnership-breaking wickets but went for over four and a half an over on Day 3.
It allowed South Africa to eat into India’s lead. What could well have been an advantage of 170 runs with extra time to bowl the opposition out, was reduced into an 130-run lead, forcing India to bat more overs in the second innings. But ultimately, once the rain didn’t come to their rescue, and Shami also breathe fire, South Africa had nowhere to hide against Bumrah.
This was summed up by Dean Elgar’s dismissal to kickstart the procession on Day 5. The ugly but unflappable left-hand batter that Elgar is, he plays everything within the imaginary box that the great AB de Villiers talked about. Unlike AB, Elgar’s bat face doesn’t come down absolutely straight. So he tends to look a touch ungainly when he misses the ball. But in staying within that box, Elgar forces it on the bowler to come up with a ‘late’ moving ball from the straight. If it goes too early, the shape giving away the direction of the movement, Elgar adjusts. He misses but survives. To take that edge, you have to do it late and do it off the deck.
Bumrah got Elgar out with one such ball in the first-innings. But in the second, for a short period, the left-hander forced both him and Shami to follow him, bowl into his body from over and around the stumps. With Temba Bavuma also making a swift start to his innings, South Africa added over 30 runs to their overnight score while playing out Shami from one end and getting into Siraj.
Then out came the game-changer again. Bumrah started setting Elgar up from around the wicket. The 51st over of the innings saw him gradually force Elgar across with four successive balls going outside the off-stump. Usually in deep control of his actions at the crease, Elgar subconsciously began moving towards the off-side with his head falling slightly but enough for the ball to sneak in.
Bumrah must’ve spotted this the previous ball or followed the pattern for the over, because on the fifth he delivered the sucker punch: a delivery that jagged back in sharply from close right of the standing umpire to hit Elgar’s front pad plumb in line with the stumps. Usually, such a ball would’ve required an obvious change in the angle wider from the umpire to bring the ball in. But then Elgar would’ve sighted it and adjusted accordingly.
Bumrah’s greatness is that he can create the set-up from the very area and angle that he bowled the wicket ball from. Elgar, the flagbearer of the box theory, was forced to play with his head falling just enough to not make contact with straight, full, incoming ball and be sent back, beaten on the inside edge for an LBW. It was a perfect set-up from a perfect bowler.
That was enough to break open the door. All of South Africa’s fight and hope had been crushed by an ace quick with one piece of magic.
Death, taxes and Jasprit Bumrah… a formidable force.