A couple of months ago, I came across statistics on Jasprit Bumrah’s bowling across formats, and the figures shocked me.
In 12 Test matches, he has bowled 451.5 overs, taking 62 wickets at an average of 19.24.
In 58 one-day internationals, he has bowled 501.3 overs, taking 103 wickets at an average of 21.88.
In 42 T20 internationals, he has bowled 153.1 overs, taking 51 wickets at an average of 20.17.
Several cricket writers have quoted the last two columns – his wickets and average – and Virat Kohli recently termed him “the most complete bowler” across formats.
But the number of overs is cause for alarm for anyone who follows cricket. No fast bowler should have clocked over 1100 overs in such a short span of time.
I worried then that the overuse was a tragedy waiting to happen. I did not think it would happen quite so soon. Bumrah is only 25. He has been playing international cricket for under four years, and test cricket for under two.
It is the first time in aeons that India has had a truly fast bowler, someone who starts at 140 kilometres an hour and builds his pace from there on. It appears the team management does not know how to handle him.
Fast bowlers traditionally have the lightest workload on paper and the shortest careers, because the strain under which they repeatedly put their bodies is so immense.
Various studies have estimated that the ground force impact on a fast-bowler’s front leg is between five and eight times his body weight, and on the back leg, between two and three times his body weight, depending on the length of run-up and the delivery style.
Bumrah’s run-up has little correlation with the ball he produces. Much has been made of his unorthodox action, with senior batsmen – often, retired Indian cricketers – singing paens to how hard he is to “pick”. He has a run-up which begins languidly and morphs over the last few paces into an almost comical high-speed action, with his arms flying all around him to extend right above his head, his shoulders nearly perpendicular to the ground, and a dramatic pause before firing. His release point varies from ball to ball. He can seemingly produce yorkers on demand. He is the go-to death bowler, the go-to partnership breaker, the go-to workhorse.
The pacer has already had surgery on his knee – the result of an injury sustained during a warm-up football game – and returned to cricket within four months of his ligament reconstruction, though he was advised rest for 6-12 months.
The injury that will keep him out of the ongoing Test series against South Africa is a stress fracture on his lower back, and the Board of Control for Cricket in India has been reticent about the details. All we know is that he is being sent to the UK for treatment – not the extent of the injury, not the estimated time of recovery.
Depending on the severity of the fracture – whether it is simply a strain or a bilateral fracture – it could take between two months and over a year to heal. Given his history, and that of the Indian team, it is unlikely he will rest for as long as a year.
Indian pitches are typically hunting grounds for spinners, and this would have been Bumrah’s first home series. He has been on four international tours – South Africa, England, Australia, and the West Indies – and picked up at least one five-wicket haul in each of those, including a hat-trick.
The team chose to rest him for some of the one-day internationals on tour, but his workload in Tests – combined with the hectic IPL seasons in which he has played over the last seven years – is certain to have taken a toll on his body.
No team has found an effective way to protect their pacers.
Australia has produced some of the world’s most fearsome fast-bowlers, but only one of them features in the top three of its all-time highest wicket-takers. And god knows Glenn McGrath wasn’t the fastest, not by several tens of miles an over. His average speed is estimated at 130 kmph, and his fastest deliveries were in the range of 145 kmph. Despite the highly specialised staff employed by Cricket Australia, the careers of most of their fast bowlers have been cut short by injuries.
The only team from the subcontinent that has produced men who bowl as fast as the Australians is Pakistan. Waqar Younis and Shoaib Akhtar were plagued by injuries, and Wasim Akram regularly altered his run-up, action, and even pace to sustain his career.
Across the world, every few years, a fast-bowling sensation emerges, only to disappear into an abyss of injuries.
It would be a terrible shame if that happened to Jasprit Bumrah and his fledgling career.
More Columns by Nandini Krishnan:
Why the Diaspora has so much love to give
Hindi debate: We are all obsessed with homogeneity
We are choking the earth
When Kamal Haasan endorsed harassment
The Dalai Lama and the death of humour
The delusionary Indian intellectual
India's culture of worship has to end