“There’s a point at 7,000 RPM where everything fades. The machine becomes weightless. It just disappears. All that’s left, is a body moving through space and time. 7,000 RPM, that’s where you meet it. You feel it coming. It creeps up near you, and it asks you a question. The only question that really matters. Who are you?” — actor Matt Damon playing Carroll Shelby in the critically acclaimed 2019 film Ford vs Ferrari recites this quote.
While the original phrase has been used to refer to the wonders of a motorcar when it revs up in pace and breaches the magical barrier of ultimate speed — a similar analogy can be used to describe a tearaway pace bowler hurtling across the cricket turf in his full flight.
Pace bowling is an art and science intertwined into one. Only a few master the craft and even few manage to push the rare form of art to its extreme edge. Thus, when a 22-year-old prodigy who up until a few years ago was only bowling with tennis balls, comes out of nowhere and spears 150 kmph thunderbolts, people tend to notice.
Hailing from a small village named Gujjar in Jammu, Sunrisers Hyderabad’s pace bowling assassin Umran Malik is already the biggest talking point of this year’s IPL. With an action as graceful as a gazelle and a delivery stride that rivals the best in the business—Umran spears the white cherry towards brittle-looking batters, sweating profusely for their lives while standing merely 17.5 meters away in the popping crease.
Umran’s journey started from the Tawi ground in his neighbourhood where he picked the ball and started rolling his arms. However, still not realizing the true potential of his powers, a timid Umran hesitantly reached the U-19 trials of the state.
From humble beginnings to beating batters with his ⚡ pace – #UmranMalik is winning all the ❤️!
— Star Sports (@StarSportsIndia) April 17, 2022
Having not played any district cricket, some tried to discourage Umran from taking part in the trials. However, Umran, amid the chaos of the trial ground, picked up the ball and bowled a corker of a delivery straightaway. The selectors watching him were stunned and immediately asked, “Who are you? You are bowling so fast! Why are you not playing matches?”
And thus started Umran’s journey in the competitive cricketing world. He was soon discovered by then Jammu & Kashmir team mentor and former Indian all-rounder Irfan Pathan who guided him. Umran’s friend Abdul Samad, playing for SRH suggested his name to the scouts and the videos of his bowling were immediately dispatched to Hyderabad.
Cricket gods and Umran’s surprise break
Consequently, in April 2021, Umran was selected as one of the three net bowlers for IPL 2021. With covid, the tournament was halted midway and it looked like Umran had lost his golden chance. However, as the cricketing gods would have it — SRH’s premier pacer T Natarajan got injured and Umran was announced as his replacement.
The pacer from Jammu made his IPL debut on October 3, 2021, against Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) and immediately hogged the limelight by bowling five deliveries in a row, with speed in excess of over 150 kmph. Umran didn’t pick any wicket in his first game but the speed gun and the numbers on it were enough for everyone to take notice, including the then Indian skipper, Virat Kohli.
SRH retains Umran ahead of IPL mega auction
Such was Umran’s instant impact that SRH management retained him ahead of the IPL mega auction when the likes of David Warner and other biggies were in the fray.
As the tournament approached, it was announced that SRH had signed Dale Steyn as fast bowling coach for the franchise. Safe to say, Umran couldn’t have asked for a better mentor to guide him.
Steyn and Umran — the perfect teacher-student pairing
Fast forward to nearly halfway stage of the tournament and one can see the work put in by the South African in Umran’s development. After going for some runs in the initial few matches, Umran has set the IPL stage ablaze.
He has already picked a five-fer, emulated Steyn’s iconic chainsaw celebration and even made the South African jump and hop around the dugout in pure ecstasy after picking a wicket.
Two pacers, same joy ☺️
— IndianPremierLeague (@IPL) April 15, 2022
Steyn has already given his verdict that Umran will one day play for India, “Umran will play international cricket, no doubt about that. He bowls at 150kmph consistently, and nobody else is doing that in the world right now, maybe Lockie Ferguson is the other guy who does it, but they are very different bowlers. But from an Indian point of view, he is the only guy that consistently bowls over 145-150kmph every single ball, so he will play for India. But how India manages him is completely up to them,”
Look after Umran; do not over bowl, overexert or rush him
Umran breaks the 150 kmph barrier without breaking a sweat. It appears as if it is a chore for the pacer as his compatriot’s labour to reach anywhere near his figures on the speed gun. However, pace bowlers bowling bolts like Umran tend to break down rather frequently.
It’s not easy to put one’s body through such stress and that too repeatedly. Indian cricket needs to wrap Umran in cotton wool and protect him. Having seen express pacers like Varun Aaron and Navdeep Saini already break down due to the apathy of NCA and BCCI – it would be criminal if Umran is handled in such a careless way.
The youngster has everything in his bag to lead the Indian bowling attack someday. Hopefully, the fans as well as BCCI persist with his development and allow him time and the room to fail, every now and then again. He will go for runs and will have odd bad days but if everyone perseveres with him, we could have a real superstar in our hands.
DC speedster Flash during his inner monologues often hypes himself by saying ‘Run Barry Run!”. We wonder what Umran’s internal monologue is like? After all, he is no less than a speedster. Perhaps it is something along the lines of “Bowl fast. Bowl only fast Umran”. Whatever the dialogue be, India is lucky to have such a treasure in its coffer.