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Umran Malik – the case of risk and reward for India

Last updated on 10 Jan 2023 | 05:55 PM
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Umran Malik – the case of risk and reward for India

Umran, the middle-over enforcer has been a pleasant change to India’s ODI scheme of things

Where is Umran Malik? Why did they not pick him for the T20 World Cup? India lost the event in Australia because they didn’t pick Malik and so on. It is impossible to have followed any bit of cricket in the country without having heard Umran’s name, so much so that he has become synonymous with pace in the country.

Pace = Umran and Umran = pace. India’s search for tearaway bowler has gone on several routes, including Varun Aaron but somehow none have really impressed at this level like how Umran has. Let’s look at some numbers.

Fastest ball by an Indian in IPL = Umran Malik (157 kmph)

Fastest ball by an Indian in ODIs = Umran Malik (156 kmph)

Fastest ball by an Indian in T20I = Umran Malik (155 kmph)

Pace is pace, and the series has really pointed out that the tearaway has the management’s backing in the 50-over format, one that suits him. His role is pretty much fixed, one of being a middle-over enforcer, with the right-arm speedster having picked up seven wickets. He averages 28, and has an economy of six in ODIs.

In comparison, Mohammed Siraj, who was India’s best bowler on the night went just for 4.28 RPO, where he absolutely offers control in a phase where India have struggled heavily – the powerplay. But the trend from the last two series has been that the management have backed the players at their preferred position, the biggest example being Rahul Tripathi in the T20I series, where he batted at No.3.

Following suit, Rohit Sharma and the management have backed Umran completely in the middle-overs, and they were the beneficiary of some raw pace, with the right-arm speedster breathing fire. In fact, it started all the way from the T20I series, where he picked up seven wickets whilst averaging just 15.14.

“I have played 6 games, I just want to bowl well and in the right areas. The wicket was flat, I spoke with Siraj bhai, Shami bhai, the input was to make the most of my pace. I want to be as accurate as possible,” said Umran in the aftermath of his spell.

On a pitch that was quite flat in Guwahati, Umran was a big point of difference. At one point, it felt like he was literally bowling on another wicket. Off his first over, Umran had rattled both Nissanka and Charith Asalanka before he was rewarded with a much-deserved wicket. Ya, it was lucky, it didn’t come off the bat but the pace was such, Asalanka didn’t know a thing.

In his second spell, he sent off Nissanka with a brute, a delivery that beat the Sri Lankan opener for pace all the way. It was banged hard on a length that got the right-hander fending, and sometimes that’s what pace does. Dunith Wellalage would attest to his pace as well, it was fast and furious. Five overs, 31 runs, three wickets, Umran was taking the Sri Lankan batters on a pacey road.

It is something that New Zealand were handed too in the earlier series, and in Bumrah’s absence, it is something that India lacked big time. But the more Umran has bowled in his career, the more lethal he looks, the more the pace increases. Sometimes it is scary what pace could do.

But there is a catch, a big one rather painted in red: economy. The risk that always accompanies the reward. You have to bear the fruit, you have to take care of the thorn. Accuracy is something that Umran desires but doesn’t possess in absolute terms at the moment. Even he attested to that at the end of the first ODI against Sri Lanka.

What makes us say that? Well, there is an evident witness that follows it. In the ODI against Sri Lanka itself, barring the short length, where he also picked up two wickets, Umran was quite costly, going at well over 7, 15 and 24. One of the prime reasons for him getting much of his success off the deliveries that are short is primarily because of the pace he generates.

It isn’t limited to the clash from Sri Lanka. It is a pattern that has surrounded the right-arm pacer, starting from his Sunrisers Hyderabad days. Picture this, barring five clashes in the IPL 2022, Umran went at an economy of well over 8. On his worse days, the speedster gave away 52 runs without any breakthroughs.

That has seeped its way to the ODIs as well. Across his ODI career, Umran has visible concerns that surround his economy rate. Whenever the 23-year-old has pitched the ball short, he has reaped the rewards. But when he has erred, the batters have been relentless and punishing. Umran’s pace is there for everyone to see but his economy rate, and the margins of errors are also evidently visible.

It is a case of risk vs reward for India. Umran is still a work-in-progress, and pace is something that can’t be taught. But what can be is discipline and accuracy, something that Umran will look to improve in the days, months and years to come. If it boils down to risk vs reward, it would be curious to see which spectrum they will swing.

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