It was a moment to savour for Jasprit Bumrah. A delivery that clocked 140 kph had just done in the great AB de Villiers to give him his maiden Test wicket for India.
Up until then, Bumrah had overpitched the ball on debut, bowled a floaty length that aids the drive through the covers but doesn’t nip and move off the deck to take the edge.
Nerves could be an issue on debut with even the most thick-skinned but this felt like a pure case of inexecution and tactical misunderstanding.
The wicket ball, however, showcased an early sign of quick learnings that Bumrah was going through within his first day at the Test level.
While full enough to make de Villiers drive, it was still a delivery short enough for the ball to spend those extra milliseconds with the surface, seam into the batter, evade the meaty bulk of his driving willow, take the inside edge and crash onto the stumps.
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At the Test level, it is not the absolutely full-pitched ball that extracts the edges, for that is the length that is closest to a batter’s downswing and sweet spot. The length that actually takes the edge is the one that evades the downswing just enough, while enabling the movement of the ball towards the batter.
The full-pitched ball is often incorrectly equated to the uppish good length ball at the Test level. Commentators don’t help the case, as they constantly harp on the need for teams and bowlers to operate fuller than they are doing, without ever really educating the viewer exactly what length separates a floaty boundary ball from the one that takes the edge.
Jasprit Bumrah set for memorable Cape Town revisit
Cape Town, January 2018 – is where it all began for me in Test cricket. Four years on, I’ve grown as a player and a person and to return to this ground brings back special memories. 😊 pic.twitter.com/pxRPNnqwBH
— Jasprit Bumrah (@Jaspritbumrah93) January 9, 2022
Jasprit Bumrah learnt this the hard way, conceding multiple boundaries in his opening spell before pulling the length back slightly to keep a leash on run-scoring and maintain a wicket-taking threat.
From the very next innings, and ever since, Bumrah has been a different bowler. The one who doesn’t offer the batter that costly freebie, one who induces the edges, destroys the stumps and laughs at their misery. 107 Test wickets at 23.24 are testament to it.
Cape Town thus will always remain special for Bumrah, who returns after four years as an impeccable force, who learnt his early lessons harshly and took them to heart, making it a point to never repeat those errors that perhaps cost his team a Test match. A constantly evolved bowler that has taken his range and game to the next level since.
Back then also he had a poor innings to overcome and went on to stamp his authority. Bumrah would be the first one to admit he had an indifferent Test match by his standards up in Johannesburg, especially the second half where he went for 70 off his 14 overs without taking a single wicket on a surface going more and more uneven.
When India needed their ace to stand up to the task, he didn’t rise to the occasion, erring repeatedly with his lines – which makes it a rare outing for the speedster, who could go wicketless but is hardly ever costly to his side. With a short break in-between, Bumrah would’ve done the course correction within his head, recognising where he fell short.
He isn’t the most expressive but a stump-mic conversation during an injury break during the Jo’burg Test revealed the hurt Bumrah may have developed over his spell and failure in the game. He indirectly warned South Africa there is another Test match left, that they haven’t gotten away from him and that there is another occasion they’ll have to counter him if they are to take the series honours.
That is just about the perfect mindset where India would want their ace quick to be in as he returns to the place “where it all began” for a potentially historic decider. Despite an indifferent outing last game, South Africa will know they will be facing twice the Jasprit Bumrah they did back in 2018 at Cape Town. Upskilled. Matured. An incredible bowler.