The most jaw-dropping pick in India’s playing XI in the ongoing first Test against South Africa is Jasprit Bumrah, ahead of the likes of Umesh Yadav and Ishant Sharma. The two latter are both tall, have pace and bounce and movement — all suited for South African tracks; Jasprit, on the other hand, has none of those attributes.
I got the feeling that the politician’s syllogism was at work when the team think tank inked in his name: We need to be brave and bold; this is brave and bold, so let’s do this. It also plays to the narrative of this “new India” under Virat Kohli being willing to upend dogma, to play on their own terms, to back youth — all good in theory, but the key is in how you apply that theory; here, it has been misapplied.
Nothing against Bumrah — if I were picking a T20 team he is among the first names I’d put down; he bowls in straight lines, mostly within the stumps; he can with the older ball produce yorker-length deliveries almost at will, and these are great assets in a format where the batsman are coming at you all the time. But not in Tests, where batsmen have the time and space to work out your lines, and where you have to string together more than one or two tight overs on the trot for pressure to build.
None of this is to say that he may not become a Test bowler in time (though I suspect not); the word is he is a “fast learner”, and will likely grow into the job. But the first Test of India’s first overseas assignment in a long time, against a world-class team, is not the place to learn.
The thing about Bumrah’s bowling that puzzled me is why all the obvious — and ‘obvious’ is the key word — effort he puts into his run up and delivery is not translating into pace and movement. So I asked ace fast bowling coach Ian Pont (on Twitter here) to break it down for us.
Ian is the one bowling coach who goes against conventional wisdom and maintains that speed can be taught; his Fast Bowler’s Bible is for me a go-to reference book when I want to figure out the actions of the top quicks in the game, or understand why a fast bowler seems a bit ‘off’.
Ian builds his coaching around the Four Tent Pegs theory; a sequence of processes beginning with the moment when you land your back foot into the delivery stride and extends through the action into the follow through. Here is a graphic representation, and here is Ian talking of the theories underlying pace bowling.
I asked Ian if he could break down Jasprit’s action and see where the mechanics break down, if in fact they do. Some 20 minutes later, he sent me this:
To put it in lay terms, the quickest bowlers going around all have their own actions — some bowl over a locked front leg, others run through the bowling crease. But all of them do have some things in common, the most common of these being that their action is akin to *pulling* the ball from the sightscreen and hurling it, over a front leg locked rigid and a front hip pointing down the pitch, at the batsman. Look at the graphic breakdown above, and you’ll see the answers to why Jasprit’s momentum doesn’t translate into commensurate pace.
Ian and his coaching partner Cathy Dalton, by the way, recently launched this website for all cricketers, at every level from weekend and club to international and every age from teens through to, well, mine, with aspirations to improving their speed. Check it out and if you play, sign up — Ian is by far the most helpful bowling expert I know, incredibly generous with his time and knowledge.
Elsewhere, Hardik Pandya’s counterpunching assault on the South African bowlers (and his adrenalin-fueled twin strikes when the Proteas began their second innings) was the highlight of play yesterday — and I missed every moment of it, thanks to a meeting I couldn’t postpone. So I have nothing to add to the reports published on various media outlets.
That innings appears to have had an unlooked-for outcome as well: Dale Steyn, just coming back from injury, had to strain far more than seemed likely when Saha fell in the 42nd over to reduce India to 92/7; the additional workload seems to have created stresses on an already vulnerable heel, and the word is that Steyn won’t be able to play the rest of the Test (which will in turn impact on South Africa’s bowling plans when India bats in the second innings) and probably the rest of the series (which is a loss for those who watch at least in part for the aesthetics — and Steyn steaming in to bowl at top pace is one of the most delightful sights in the red ball game).
At start on day three, India is 142 behind and needs to take out eight wickets for not very much more if it is to cash in on the sliver of a chance the enterprising Hardik and the remarkably composed Bhuvi Kumar gave them. The default mode of packing the off, adopting an in-out field and hanging the ball out to dry around the fifth stump is not going to yield dividends — SA needs just another 160 runs at the minimum to put itself in pole position.
India’s best hope is to attack — Bhuvi and Pandya opening, and Ashwin into the game as early as first change at one end, would be my pick. Which brings up something that baffled me — late yesterday evening, Shami complained vehemently to the umpires that the ball had abraded; the umpires were interested enough to take a close look. I’d have thought an abraded but still hard ball was your cue to bring on the off=spinner; the rough surface helps the ball grip the deck, and the hardness of the ball aids bounce.
In the event, though, Ashwin got 1 — one — over before Kohli went to Bhuvi for a second spell. And even in that one over, against a clearly tentative left-hander, the field was a slip and short square; a batsman ill at ease against an off-spinner looks to poke the ball square on the off, or fine off the hips, to get a single and get off strike. Both those areas were left uncovered, and Elgar got his single behind square on the on and got away. The one thing spinners need if they are to attack and look for wickets is a field that allows them to work on a batsman, keep him in the headlights and not get away — and the in-out field is not it.
Oh, and India needs to hold its catches and convert its half chances — in the 20 overs the Proteas batted, I counted three half-chances into the slip/gully cordon that more competent close catchers would have converted with relative ease, besides a bungled high catch in the outfield.
Interesting day’s play ahead; as I did for most of yesterday’s play, I’ll post straight to Twitter, threading the posts for ease of reading. Follow along.