Ben Jones analyses Jasprit Bumrah’s brilliant pre-lunch spell to Shaun Marsh.
Given the moment, given the match, given the series, this was one of the great overs.
With the final six balls before the interval, Jasprit Bumrah delivered a sequence of deliveries that left bowling coaches quivering, Indian fans ecstatic, and Shaun Marsh plaintively looking around him, wondering where on earth the ball had gone.
His confusion was understandable, because Bumrah had sent down one of the great slower balls. Bowled at just 111kph, it swooped under Marsh’s bat like a seagull diving into the water to catch its prey, timing its descent to perfection. Bang on target, the ball thudded into Marsh’s pad, the only thing preventing it from cannoning into middle-stump. It was superb.
However, the context of the delivery made it even more impressive. The way the ball related to the rest of the over, the way it functioned as part of a broader, more sophisticated assault on the Australian No.4, is where its true beauty exists.
Obviously, the variation of speed was key. Every ball before the final, fatal delivery was above 139kph, Bumrah turning up the heat and pushing Marsh back into his crease, setting him up. Marsh may have left four of those five balls, but that sort of pace sustained across an over is bound to get into a batsman’s head. This made the eventual deceleration all the more effective; the sixth delivery, the wicket ball, was 34kph slower than the fifth. It was the sort of pace-change that leaves you with whiplash.
The pace was fundamental, but it was accompanied by canny control of lateral movement. Bumrah was completely on top of his wrist position, and subsequently the seam position, and used it as another means of setting Marsh up for his demise. All of those first five deliveries were away-swingers, even the second delivery was tight into the off-stump, but the final ball swung back into the left-hander. It swung 1.3°, more than any other delivery in the over. In other words, it moved in an unexpected direction, to an unexpected degree. Marsh really was out of luck.
It was an over constructed so perfectly, with such precision, that it felt almost cinematic. It may not have had the numerous play-and-misses that often define classic overs, but make no mistake – this was pretty much as good as fast bowling gets.
This shouldn’t be surprising, given that the brilliance of Bumrah is now well established. In this series, Bumrah has drawn an edge or a miss once every four deliveries. Sure, it’s a series that has been played on some tasty surfaces, but his biggest contribution has come on the flattest wicket of the lot. He has extracted every last bit of movement from every pitch he’s played on, and that is worth a huge amount to captain, coach, and spectator.
We should give credit where it’s due. India’s selectors get a hard time, and generally for good reasons; they have made numerous mistakes which have cost India numerous matches, and their legacy is unlikely to be a positive one. However, the selection of Bumrah was a masterstroke. He bowls with a short run-up, a jerky action, and had relatively little first-class experience when promoted to the Test side. All three are the sorts of reasons we hear thrown about as reasons for not picking an unorthodox player, but rather than running scared from their maverick, India’s selectors brought him into the fold. His presence in the side just gives India that little bit of spark, those skills honed in tight white-ball finishes coming to the fore in the longer, less structured form of the game. India’s selectors backed Bumrah to put those skills to use, and to find a way to succeed. He’s repaid their faith, and then some.
By contrast, Australia haven’t shown quite the same willingness to trust their white ball ‘specialists’. The promotion of Aaron Finch suggests they aren’t absolutely averse to the idea, but he has been shoe-horned into the side playing in a position he doesn’t occupy for his state. That smacks of a whim, a gut-feel selection not built from knowledge or assessment. What’s more, Finch is a fairly orthodox batsman in terms of technique. The white ball batsmen who get chances are the ones who look a bit like the men already in the Test team.
Let’s take the example of Glenn Maxwell. He has a better Shield average than Finch and Travis Head, yet they are the ones to have been given chances in the Test side. Maxwell has a strong case to feel aggrieved with the way he’s been treated by the selection process, given that at times it feels as if his flair and invention in limited overs cricket distracts from his qualities in the red-ball form. His impressive average and his effectiveness as an attacking but substantial Shield batsman are ignored because he does not look like a first-class cricketer. On a day when an unorthodox cricketer devastated Australia’s middle order, the hosts’ reliance on more traditional performers, regardless of the soundness of their record, feels a little old-fashioned. As has been discussed on this site previously in greater detail, Australia’s reluctance to picking players at the extremes (Matthew Renshaw representing the opposite end of the spectrum to Maxwell, but still an atypical talent) is not serving their best interests, and will harm them going forward.
This may feel like two different discussions, but they really aren’t as distinct as they seem. The slower ball that Bumrah bowled today was a brilliantly executed skill, but a skill right out of the death overs of an ODI. That sort of inspiration and genius is valuable in all forms of the game, and India’s willingness to embrace Bumrah’s oddity and unorthodoxy, in order to benefit from those same traits, has taken them to the brink of victory in this Test and this series. Perhaps if Australia were more willing to do the same, we would be saying the reverse.
Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.