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Decoded: Jasprit Bumrah, the giant amongst men

Last updated on 13 Feb 2024 | 02:12 PM
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Decoded: Jasprit Bumrah, the giant amongst men

There is no escaping Bumrah if you are a batter. No matter the format, the most complete modern pacer will be at you always with his skill, mind, and everything else that helps him get a wicket.

Ollie Pope had batted for 54 balls until then. His eyes were set. He had a 196 in the last Test. There, in Hyderabad, he ensured that his team achieved something that had happened only thrice in the last decade. 

India lost a Test at home. 

Pope got a start in the second test as well. His drives had started to flow again. But then Jasprit Bumrah happened. 

Bumrah’s action would have told him nothing about what the ball would do. It was the same one we all have seen and tried to emulate. However, Bumrah changed the point of the ball's release, bowling it from wide of the crease. The ball was 27.4 overs old already. Bumrah was aiming something incredible - he wanted the ball to reverse swing all the way into the stumps from the wide of the crease. 

Pope could have hardly done anything about the ball. First, it didn’t start swinging straightaway from Bumrah’s hands, meaning Pope wasn’t anticipating the ball coming in so sharply. Hence, when the ball started swinging into the stumps, Pope was in no position to play it. It didn’t matter that the movement was too much for him to begin with. 

There was only one survivor of that delivery - a solitary stump standing in the ground as the other two and Pope were uprooted and returned to dust. 

“As a youngster, that’s [yorker] is the first delivery I learnt to bowl…I used to think it was the only way to get wickets.” 

At this point, it’s fair to ask why Bumrah doesn’t use his yorker much more. But that’s the thing about Bumrah - he is not just a one-trick pony. 

He is the magician with an entire bag full of tricks.

If Pope’s dismissal was a classic reminder of what reverse swing is capable of in the right hands, Jonny Bairstow’s dismissal in both the innings of the second Test showed the smiling assassin’s shrewd mind. 

In the first innings, Bumrah got Bairstow caught in the slips by brilliantly mixing his inswingers and outswingers throughout the 36th over. Bumrah saw the batter being cautious of the delivery that would target his pads - Bairstow averages only 26.1 against deliveries that move in - and immediately worked out his plans to use his weakness. He just bowled one slightly wide on a length and got enough shape on the ball due to the angle of his release to make Bairstow poke at it. Edged. Slips. Caught. Job done. 

In the next innings, Bairstow was wary of poking at anything outside his off stump. He had got a start once again, playing at 26 off 35 balls. Hence, when Bumrah tried to lure him with deliveries in the corridor of uncertainty outside the off stump, Bairstow showed the discipline of a boarding school PT teacher to leave those deliveries. However, having left them all, he was also getting comfortable doing that. 

A good magician always knows his audience. He anticipates their expectations and then tricks them by giving them something entirely different. Similarly, Bumrah broke Bairstow’s rhythm by bowling one quick on a length where it probably hit a crack and seamed in to hit Bairstow bang in front of his wickets. A DRS only delayed the inevitable for a few seconds. 

Use of the bowling crease. Use of his mind to constantly outthink the batters by exacerbating the chinks in their armour. Reverse swing. Conventional swing. Obliterated stumps. Defeated batters. 

All you need to know about Jasprit Bumrah can be summed up from these two dismissals. At the beginning of his career, he wasn’t considered a great prospect on the flat pitches at home. But here he was, proving every doubter wrong, painting pretty victories for India with the strokes of his genius and skill.


There’s a solid science and reason behind everything Bumrah manages to do on a cricket field. In this case, the magic lies in what makes him stand out at first sight - his bowling action.

However, many experts and bowling coaches thought managing the consistency required for an elite Test bowler would be hard to attain with such an unorthodox action. The list of those experts included India’s former bowling Bharat Arun, who first saw Bumrah in a trial during his Under-19 days. 

But they eventually realised that changing the action wasn’t working as Bumrah wasn’t the same bowler without it. Not tinkering with its biomechanics ensured that Bumrah’s x-factor was never lost. Right from the start till the finish, each segment of his action helps him be the bowling supermachine he is. 

Let’s start with his run-up. The most noticeable thing about Bumrah’s run-up is how short it is. He does not even run at full steam within that. He just takes a few stuttering steps and holds the ball tightly with his non-bowling arm outstretched in front of his body as if he’s ensuring a one-hand distance in his school’s morning assembly. 

He gathers momentum as he approaches the crease, and right at the point of delivery is where the magic of Bumrah’s bowling technique lies. He slants the knee of his front leg at impact, his non-bowling arm remaining absolutely perpendicular to the ground, and he bends his back to release the ball with an extremely straight elbow. 

At the point of release, his wrist has already clocked back, and he releases the ball further in front of his body (bottom left picture in the collage), unlike most other pacers who are taught to release it right from where their front foot lands. In the picture above, that ‘hyperextension’ allows Bumrah to release the ball 48 centimetres ahead (the picture below) of where Kemar Roach releases the ball. 

As a result of that hyperextension, the distance between the ball and the batter is reduced. Hence, the ball comes at the batter quicker than he anticipates. That makes him late while playing his shots, which happened to both Ollie Pope and Jonny Bairstow. While other bowlers try to hurry the batters by putting in extra effort on the ball or trying to land it on the leather and make it skid, Bumrah does it by default. 

Apart from the hyperextension, his straight elbow and flexible but strong wrists allow him to have a whippy action. That’s also where he generates most of the pace on the ball. Before releasing, Bumrah’s wrists clock back, and as he delivers, he is able to impart quite a lot of backspin on the ball. 

Screenshot courtesy - Sony Liv

That backward force allows the ball to lift and fall far closer to the batter than his preliminary anticipation (watch this video to understand this better). It’s hard for a batter to play such deliveries when a spinner bowls it. When a bowler like Bumrah bowls it, who can consistently bowl above 140 kmph, that ball becomes deadly. 

The whippy action and his bent back also help him to hit the deck regularly, and his seam position extracts every ounce of lateral movement available on the pitch. With the new ball, Bumrah sometimes struggles to control the amount of movement in the air. But that extra moment becomes deadly with the old one, especially when reversing. That’s what obliterated Pope’s middle and leg stumps. 

His action is unorthodox. But it has everything that a fast bowler needs. In fact, it has a lot more than many fast bowlers because of how ‘different’ it is in the first place. 

However, all these ingredients are useless if they aren’t applied cleverly. That’s where the T20 bowler in Bumrah rises and completely changes the game. 

In the second innings of the second Test, Tom Hartley and Ben Foakes were batting with confidence and control to delay the Indian win. They already had a 55-run partnership going in around 12 overs. A few more runs would have spoiled India’s fun. That’s when Bumrah showed why he’s currently the world’s best bowler across formats. 

The first five deliveries of the 65th over were all bowled in the mid-130s. Foakes defended them with ease. However, on the last delivery, Bumrah bowled an off-cutter into the pitch at 122 kmph. It was a good 17 kmph slower than the fifth ball. Foakes was foxed. 

On the eve of the SA20 title clash, Dale Steyn was asked about Bumrah, and he brought up this exact point where great bowlers can use the skills of one format in the other to flummox the batters. 

I think good Test bowlers make good T20 bowlers. They have good skills in terms of when to use a change of pace, when to use this slow ball, and when to use their bouncer. I’m hoping many bowlers will get caught on to that and realise that the more red-ball cricket they play, the better, shorter format bowlers they will become.” Steyn said. 

Bumrah named himself a T20 bowler because Mumbai Indians scouted him for that purpose. However, people forget that his red ball bowling skills always got coaches at the junior level noticing him. A first-class average of 25.5 before Test debut proves that. If anything, his exploits in T20 cricket have allowed him to add to his already diverse bowling skills. 

It’s that extra bit that also allows him to keep the batter on their toes on a docile pitch, like the one in Vizag. Bumrah took the pitch out of the equation with his reverse swing, played with the batters' minds by setting them up through classic Test match fast bowling, and then employed his variations to deceive even set batters on flat tracks. Of course, his control and consistency played a big role in it, as the big aggregation of deliveries near the good length in his pitch map shows.

At this point, it doesn’t matter if it was T20 cricket or Test cricket that gave Bumrah the bowler to the world. The fact that he exists is in itself a cause of celebration for cricket fans. 


To establish his greatness, it is important to see where he sits amongst the present and past crop of bowlers. 

Today, the Punjabi munda from Ahmedabad has the best overall bowling average (20.19) for all Indians to take more than 100 Test wickets. The next best, Mohammed Shami, gives 27.72 runs/wicket. His average in India is just 13.06 and is the highest for any pacer with 20 or more wickets in India. He has also bowled the most overs for India in Test cricket after R. Ashwin since his debut, putting a seal on all those mouths questioning his commitment to the team. 

And you know what’s the best of all? 

For bowlers with more than 150 wickets in Tests, Bumrah has the second-best average in the 146-year-old history of the game. Only Syndey Barnes has a better average who didn’t play after the First World War (1914). 

His numbers aren't dwarfed when you compare Bumrah to the other top fast bowlers of our times, like Pat Cummins, Kagiso Rabada, Trent Boult, James Anderson, etc., across formats. Rather, his greatness is further accentuated. 

While Pat Cummins averages an astounding 22.40 in Test cricket (Bumrah averages almost two runs/wickets less), he averages 28.66 and 24.54 in ODI and T20I cricket, respectively. Meanwhile, Bumrah averages just 23.55 in ODIs and 19.66 in T20Is. In fact, even if you consider the numbers of Cummins’s teammate Mitch Starc, he averages around 0.5 run/wicket lesser than Bumrah in ODIs. Still, his average in Test and T20I cricket is much higher than India’s Test vice-captain. 

If you consider bowling strike rates, Bumrah strikes much quicker on average than Cummins and Starc in all formats except for Starc in ODIs (30.7 compared to 26.4). Only Rabada has had a better strike rate than Bumrah, but he bowls in South Africa, where wickets fall more quickly than in most other places. 

Compared with others in ODIs, Bumrah has given away fewer runs/wickets than Boult, Rabada, and all other bowlers except for Rashid Khan, Mohammed Shami, and Siraj. In Test cricket since his debut, only Axar Patel and Kyle Jamieson average better than him. In T20 cricket, he has had the best average amongst pacers since 2016 (his debut year) and is the fifth best overall after four spinners in the top four spots. 

His rise in world cricket across formats has been quick and has made a lot of noise. After all, Indian cricket fans have never had a bowler like him in their history. But even if you keep the number aside and talk about the diversity of his skill set alone, hardly any bowler comes close to him across formats. 

He possesses a yorker, a wobble seam delivery that swings a bit and then seams in/out, a conventional swinging delivery, reverse swing, knuckleball (rarely used), back of the hand googly, off-cutter bowled at 120-130kmph pace (the one he bowled to Foakes), slower off-break deliveries that dip (Shaun Marsh’s BGT dismissal), bouncer, slower bouncer, and of course he has the one that goes straight. 

Most top bowlers of this era can bowl maximum (or even all) of these deliveries to varying degrees of effectiveness. But what makes Bumrah stand out, even in this regard, is his control over his variations. You might have seen Starc or Shami bowl a beamer or full toss by mistake while attempting a yorker or slower delivery. But try to remember when you last saw Bumrah bowl a beamer or one of his off-cutters not pitching. You’ll find it quite hard.

Moreover, the time Bumrah uses these variations across formats makes him stand out. In a single T20 over at the death, you’ll find him using at least 3-4 variations. If he has already bowled two cutters, you can’t be assured that the next delivery would be at his normal pace as you would be in the case of most other bowlers. The third delivery could also be a slow bouncer. He can nail six yorkers as well

There is no escaping Jasprit Bumrah if you are a batter. No matter the format or the game situation, he’ll be at you with his skill, mind, and everything else that helps him get a wicket. He is a bona fide great and the most complete modern fast bowler. After all, he’s the best bowler in all three formats, even by ICC rankings.


When you are an Indian cricketer, everything outside of the field is white noise for you. But Bumrah listens to everything about him - his criticisms, trolls, and support. He sees the hypocrisy of fans as they troll him when he’s injured but makes him a bowling god with their praise when he wins matches for India. And you know what’s the best part? He gives it back and makes sure that the hypocrisy is pointed out. 

And you know what’s even better? You can imagine his smile when he called out the hypocrites. That same smile that he gives to batters which almost says, "sorry mate, I was too good for you there." The same one he gave to Ben Stokes after shattering his stumps a few days back. It’s there on his face when his teammates were down after a World Cup final loss, and he was busy consoling them. It was there on his face when he hugged Siraj after his fifer at the Gabba. 

That smile isn’t going anywhere. That is Bumrah’s hallmark now, as he sprinkles his genius on his deliveries with careful thought and precision. That’s the last thing batters would remember as they take the long walk back to the pavilion. Indian cricket will keep smiling as long as that smile keeps appearing from time to time on Jasprit Bumrah, a giant amongst men. 

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