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Incautious India in danger of running Jasprit Bumrah to the ground

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Incautious India in danger of running Jasprit Bumrah to the ground

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Anirudh Suresh

02/13/2020

When de Grandhomme cut the final ball of Bumrah’s spell at Bay Oval right of backward point in the 47th over, it marked something significant. It was not that the scores were level nor was it that the Kiwis were going to inflict a whitewash; it meant that Bumrah had ended the series wicketless.

And so came out the experts with their insights in full flow: “He is bowling too full”; “He is not looking to take wickets”; “He is not being aggressive enough”; “His body-weight is leaning towards one side” were some of the observations. And frankly, you couldn’t blame the experts or their observations, for all the aforementioned things had happened at different stages of the series. By the end of his spell in Mount Maunganui, Bumrah looked battered and bruised, sported the face of a bowler whose confidence was rock bottom and looked like he’d run out of ideas to take wickets.

At no point in the match - neither with the new ball nor with the old one in the middle overs and at the death - did he look threatening and de Grandhomme swatting one of his ‘attempted yorkers’ (read: full toss) to the mid-wicket boundary towards the end of the chase was a tell-tale sign in itself. None of us, not even Bumrah himself, are used to seeing him this way; the Bumrah we know is the one who picks wickets for fun, exerts pressure on the opposition and, more often than not, sits at the top of the wicket-takers chart in the series. We’re not accustomed to seeing Bumrah return figures of 30-0-167-0. 

‘Bumrah has not been the same bowler since his injury’ would of course be the easiest and the most obvious statement to make but that would be, in many ways, naive and ignorant. He has been rusty, of course, but in this one-month period post his return from injury, Bumrah has shown enough to indicate that he is still the same bowler he was prior to his injury. We saw fleeting glances of his absolute best in the 5th T20I in Mount Maunganui and glimpses of his brilliance in patches in Wellington, Auckland (T20s) and Rajkot. That he’s been more rusty than eloquent is a fact, but the workload that’s been imposed on him by the management - coming on the back of a four-month injury lay-off - has been borderline inhumane. 

The 3rd ODI at Bay Oval on Monday (February 10) was Bumrah’s 13th match across two formats against three different opposition in a span of 35 days. You would think that it’s a silly enough workload for a fully-fit pacer, but to consider that this was imposed on a bowler who’s still recovering from a lower-back stress fracture (the first of its kind in his career) is outrageous. 

Most overs bowled by Indian bowlers since Jan 7, 2020 (since Bumrah's return from injury) © ESPN Cricinfo

Bumrah, staggeringly, has featured in every single one of India’s 14 games (one being a washout) since his return from injury and has bowled 14.1 more overs (85 more balls) than any other Indian bowler in this Indian team, including the spin of Ravindra Jadeja. Mohammad Shami, Navdeep Saini, Yuzvendra Chahal, Jadeja and even Shardul Thakur, at different points in the limited-overs leg of the New Zealand tour, were given rests yet Bumrah featured in every single match, bowling a total of 50 overs. In fact, he was scheduled to play a Ranji Trophy match for Gujarat before the Sri Lanka, but was pulled out of it in the very last minute after intervention from BCCI President Sourav Ganguly and secretary Jay Shah. 

Giving a bowler returning from a major injury enough overs under his belt to fast-track his recovery and get match-fit is one thing, but completely running him into the ground by over-bowling him is unacceptable and dangerous. India, as of this moment, are doing the latter with Bumrah. To put things into perspective, Bumrah, over the course of the last 35 days, has bowled 18.1 more overs than what he did in the entirety of IPL 2019 across a 51-day period. Given all this, it is unsurprising that his form has seen a slump; he is knackered and he badly needs a rest.

And the worrisome factor for India, perhaps, is that the worst is yet to come. You would imagine that New Zealand would  be aware of the fact that preparing a green wicket against a potent Indian attack could very well backfire and so would most likely opt for a batting friendly wicket. The Basin Reserve - which infamously saw no wickets fall on Day 4 against Sri Lanka in 2018 - is amongst the flattest wickets in the country.

Hagley Oval, too, has been a batting friendly wicket over the past three years, albeit no Test has been played at the venue since the start of last year. What this would mean is that unless India do away with their 6 batsmen / 4 bowler away Test strategy - which is very unlikely - their pacers would be exposed to some barbaric workload in the two Tests, which would be less than ideal for Bumrah, who looks like he’s at the verge of breaking down.

You would also imagine that the chances of him being rested for the Tests are unlikely, given the team has a legitimate chance of placing one hand in the World Test Championship Final next year by completing a clean-sweep. Ishant’s fitness concerns and Saini - who is yet to play a Test for India -  being the only other standby quick also adds to the narrative. The management had multiple chances to rest Bumrah in the limited-overs leg, be it after the 3rd T20I in Hamilton or after the 2nd ODI in Auckland, but their stubborness has now means they’ve put both themselves and Bumrah in a precarious position heading into the Tests. 

Given what happened to Jofra Archer not-so-long-ago, you’d have imagined that Kohli and India would perhaps tread a bit more carefully with their ace man Bumrah, but at this point of time, it looks like they’re on overdrive and there are absolutely no signs that indicate that this will come to an end anytime soon. Maybe the injuries to Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Deepak Chahar - and how they were worked / overworked  - were not just mere ‘accidents’; maybe there’s more to it. 

But the point remains: India are currently killing Bumrah - both physically and mentally - and it needs to stop. The workload that’s been imposed on him coming on the back of an injury has been cruel and off the charts, and given his awkward action - which has been described by many as ‘dangerous’ - one misstep, for all we know, could it be all it takes to suck him into a cycle of recurring injury problems. Words about handing Bumrah with care have been aplenty, but it’s now time for the management to show it in their actions, for we’re now seeing the big man dismantle right in front of our eyes. 

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