Ben Jones looks forward to an elite quick making his home debut.
Most players, when they make their debut in front of home crowds, are unknowns. It is the beginning of a story; some arrive more anticipated than others, but they are still yet to be told.
Jasprit Bumrah’s home debut will be a rather different occasion. For one thing, they’ll be no crowds, with coronavirus – for the time being – keeping the India v England series behind closed doors. But it’ll be different for another, far more important reason, which is that when Bumrah delivers his first ball as a Test cricket on Indian soil, he will be doing so as one of the very best red ball seamers around. He’ll be doing so as a man who has twice conquered Australia. He’ll be doing so, as perhaps the finest all-format bowler in the world.
Since he made his debut in Test cricket, in January 2018, Bumrah has put together a serious record. 79 wickets, at an average 21.59, is unequivocally up there with the best in the world. The only bowlers to take more wickets in that time, at a better average, are James Anderson, Stuart Broad, and Pat Cummins. India’s attack leader is something else.
The only Indian seamers to take more away wickets before their 28th birthday are Mohammed Shami, Kapil Dev, and Zaheer Khan; each of them had played at least 16 Tests at home in that time, and Kapil Dev had played 45. It is unprecedented for an Indian seamer, as globally successful as Bumrah, to still remain unexposed in home conditions.
And so the question which is quite uniquely on everyone’s lips, is: will Jasprit Bumrah be able to adapt to Indian conditions?
In terms of conditions themselves, the idea that they are spin friendly has long been debunked. Pace has averaged less than spin in both 2018 and 2019 in India Tests. Bumrah is not being welcomed home with dust bowls, but rather surfaces which reward good cricket – hard, true pitches which are if anything far kinder to batsmen than bowlers, spin or otherwise. On surfaces like these, as in Australia, only the highest quality bowlers leave a mark on the opposition. The low scoring, bowler-friendly conditions of England are a great leveller, while Indian surfaces are set up to ensure the better team comes through. All of this can only be a good thing for Bumrah.
That’s not to say that lively green seamers will be the order of the day. Indian surfaces do keep lower as the match goes on, a function of meteorology as much as anything else, and batting gets tough. The sun takes its toll. With that uneven bounce comes the added incentive to target the stumps and, in Bumrah, India have one of the most well-suited to do so. Nobody of his pace, 138kph+, targets the stumps more often than Bumrah does, with 13% of his deliveries projected to hit or clip. The only man close is Mohammed Shami, a yard slower but a touch higher at 14%; India need a replacement, but they may be in for an upgrade.
In terms of the ball, and the vagaries which come from having different manufacturers producing the ball in Tests around the world, Bumrah is in the enviable situation of not really relying on lateral movement. Of the 50 established seamers in Test cricket since Bumrah debuted, he ranks 34th for average lateral movement (swing + seam), his 1.31° more than enough to trouble batsmen but by no means his primary weapon. That unique action does at times mask the fact that Bumrah is a bowler who simply does the basics extremely well – and extremely quickly. Across his Test career, 43% of Bumrah’s deliveries have been on a good line and length; not one of the established quicks above him in that time (Anderson, Broad, Philander, Abbas, Lakmal, Hazlewood) are faster than him. Only Hazlewood is within 5kph. When we talk about Bumrah’s ability, and his achievements with the Dukes/Kookaburra, these are translatable skills.
India’s home record is immense. Only one of their last 35 home Tests has ended in defeat, or if that’s not enough for you, only four in their last 60. And yet, in the duration of that run, while the scope of the challenge facing India’s opponents may have remained the same, the nature of the challenge has changed. From the weight of runs and trial by spin, the test is now the sort of all-round assault test teams used to associate with Australia; quality batting both aggressive and attritional, world class pace, and world class spin. The pace bowling depth is hugely impressive, and yet still, one man stands clear. Bumrah is the most obvious example of how Indian Test cricket has broadened, and swollen into a greater, more all-encompassing threat, capable of winning in all conditions.
And so, in some respects, this is actually the end of a story. If he can lead India to a win in England this year, then his reputation will be enhanced yet more, and there will always be the Next Frontier. That’s how the game works. But the first phase of Bumrah’s career was defined by the quest for landmark overseas victories, and he has returned with two in his back pocket. The second phase, the next tale to be told, begins on Friday in Chennai – welcome home, Jasprit Bumrah.
Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.