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T20 cricket has created the world’s best Test bowler in Jasprit Bumrah

Jasprit Bumrah celebrates as India beat England to win the second Test - You may not like T20, but it created the best Test bowler in the world in Jasprit Bumrah
Jasprit Bumrah celebrates as India beat England to win the second Test - Getty Images/Dibyangshu Sarkar

Two days earlier, Jasprit Bumrah’s yorker hurtled towards its target with the precision of a drone, leaving only one of Ollie Pope’s stumps in place. Forty-eight hours later, Bumrah produced a worthy encore, even if its virtues were a little subtler: an off-cutter that deceived Ben Foakes. Bumrah then nonchalantly snaffled the chance himself. He had beaten Pope for pace; now, he beat Foakes for a lack of it.

Bumrah’s match haul of nine for 91 from 33.1 overs in Vizag was the latest example of his ability to overcome any conditions, no matter how inhospitable to fast bowling. He is pace bowling’s ultimate chameleon. A swing bowler; a seam bowler; the master of a venomous full length; the owner of a venomous bouncer. At times his method – ignoring, for a moment, that slingshot action – adheres to Test match orthodoxy, pounding out a classic ‘in between’ length that can neither be driven nor pulled; at others, it mocks it. Bumrah can be many things in the same over, and several in the same delivery.

He has now harvested 155 Test wickets at 20.2 apiece; only one man in Test history, Sydney Barnes, has taken more at a lower cost. There are, indeed, curious parallels between Bumrah and Barnes, Test cricket’s leading destroyer in the early 20th Century. Above all, both defy easy categorisation. Barnes was also a seamer and swinger all at once – and a spinner, too. His speciality was the 70mph leg-break. “The ball pitched outside my leg stump,” Australia’s opener Clem Hill recalled of a characteristic Barnes wicket in the 1911-12 Ashes. “Before I could ‘pick up’ my bat, my off-stump was knocked silly.”

Both Barnes and Bumrah thrived by taking skills honed in the short-format game into Test cricket. Barnes, who held administrators with all the regard that railway commuters hold for Southern, only played 50 first-class matches in his career. He gave up his county career in 1903, aged 30, signing for the Lancashire League, which paid more. The one-day cricket played there, albeit limited by time in the match rather than overs per side, encouraged Barnes to innovate. “I never bowled at the wickets; I bowled at the stroke,” he once explained. “I intended the batsman to make a stroke, then I tried to beat it.”‌

To watch Bumrah now is to observe an equally adroit mind, and a bowler benefiting from a similar crossover. Where Barnes’s short-form education came in Lancashire League cricket, Bumrah’s has come in the Indian Premier League. After being scouted for Mumbai Indians, in the nets aged 19 he was greeted by Lasith Malinga, he of a slingshot action and one of the most devastating yorkers in history, with the words: “I’ll teach you stuff, don’t worry, I’m there.” Perhaps the most valuable lesson that Bumrah learned from Malinga, he recalled, was: “the calmer you are, the better you are. Because at that time your brain starts to work.”

Lasith Malinga bowls at Owais Shah - You may not like T20, but it created the best Test bowler in the world in Jasprit Bumrah
Lasith Malinga (right), the ‘king of the yorkers’, helped make Bumrah the bowler he is today - Getty Images/Julian Herbert

Many bowlers renowned for their variations swiftly flounder, as batsmen learn to wait for these and their stock ball is exposed. Even if Bumrah never bowled a variation he would still be a terrific Test bowler, such is his extraordinary control from his idiosyncratic action, allied to movement and pace that can exceed 90mph.

But, for all his adherence to an immaculate line and length outside off stump, Bumrah also recognises how the skills that make him the premier T20 pace bowler in the world can enhance his Test threat. There is no need to reserve that spearing yorker for the white-ball game alone; indeed, the ball can be even more effective in Tests, when batsmen do not set themselves for it in the manner of T20 batsmen in the final overs. Similarly, the off-cutter can be more lethal when batsmen have set themselves for Bumrah’s normal pace. Whereas the Pope yorker was 88mph, the Foakes off-cutter was only 76mph, a testament to Bumrah’s astounding range.

‌Just as T20 skills can enhance Test batting, so T20 prowess can also help bowlers fight back. Indeed, since Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum liberated batsmen to use their white-ball qualities against the red ball too, it is those with short-format skills who have responded best.

‌The two men who have taken most wickets against Bazball are probably the two best white-ball quicks of the age. Mitchell Starc took 23 wickets at 27.1 in the Ashes, excelling with his yorkers and slower balls. He mocked Australia’s initial preference for Scott Boland, whose phenomenal start to his Test career was built on immaculate line and length; Boland averaged 14.6 before the Ashes, but 115.5 in his two Tests.

‌Bumrah now sits second to Starc on the wickets tally against the Stokes-McCullum regime. Pakistan’s leg-spinner Abrar Ahmed, who has a fine googly, and New Zealand’s Trent Boult – such a terrific T20 bowler that he is now a freelancer on the short-format circuit – are also in the top five for most Test wickets taken against England in the past two years. So the top five comprises two left-armers who are leading white-ball bowlers; a wrist spinner; and Bumrah’s sui generis style. The outstanding Pat Cummins is the lone representative for more conventional Test bowling.

‌One-day style bowling, after all, is merely the logical response to one-day style batting: nimble and flexible, moving beyond hitting a good line and length. And so while Bumrah’s qualities are unique, England can expect opponents to strive to match their own unorthodoxy. Left-arm wrist spinner Kuldeep Yadav, who has played 138 white-ball games for India, was recalled for his ninth Test in Vizag, taking four wickets in support of Bumrah.

‌David Warner, who made his T20 debut for Australia in 2009 before he had even played a first-class match, showed how short-format batting qualities could translate into Test cricket. With bowlers’ short-format skills now more important than ever in Tests, selectors might increasingly be tempted to ask: can T20 bowlers be made into five-day cricketers too?

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