April 27, 2022: Umran Malik ‘remember thy name’ moment came and how! That incredible spell of blistering pace saw the SRH speedster demolish the stumps of Wriddhiman Saha, Shubman Gill, David Miller and Abhinav Manohar. He had arrived on the big IPL stage.
The next week or so was all about the sensational pacer and his ‘comparison journey’. From Waqar Younis to Shoaib Akhtar, from Brett Lee to Allan Donald, the comparison meter had started rolling. Add to this the ‘demands’ made by fans and former cricketers, with one of the legends even suggesting he be sent to England for the one-off Test (that completes the 6-Test series) as a surprise package.
All the chatter started to weigh down Malik and what followed immediately was a string of lacklustre performances. From 12 wickets in just four games at the start of the IPL season, he collected only 7 wickets in the next six. The story of Umran Malik had to even out for the good of the pacer and for the good of Indian cricket.
Wait better than weight
Prior to the start of the T20 series against South Africa (immediately after the IPL), Indian coach, Rahul Dravid resisted the temptation of rushing in the sensational player. Intent clearly seems to be to nurture.
“He is exciting, certainly bowls quick and has pace. The more he plays the better he gets. Very happy to have him in the mix. As a coach I would love to see it translate to the longer format of the game,” said Dravid just before the commencement of the series.
It is extremely heart-warming to see Dravid stress on the need to ease Umran into the longer format. There could be two reasons for this. First, Umran is very untested at the first-class level and has a long way to go there in terms of improving his record. The 22-year-old has played only three first-class matches and has an underwhelming average of 41.
However, it can be argued that these are his very early days, and it would be wrong to interpret anything yet from these numbers. The second and more important reason for Dravid’s measured response could possibly stem from lessons we need to learn from history. We’ve had many many (I stress on the word twice) examples of fast bowlers with raw pace in the early days of their career simply fall apart because they weren’t managed well. They climbed the ladder of international cricket in a hurry before coming down with as much haste.
Arguably one of the fastest bowlers ever to have played the game, Shaun Tait was one of the finest examples of a ‘let me take a chance by playing him. His pace could unsettle the opposition’ mindset of captains who led the Aussies back then.
Tait had a very loaded run-up and depended on sheer pace. His method of delivering the ball clearly indicated he would struggle to bowl long spells. Tait’s own strength of raw pace became his weakness as he unleashed without any control whatsoever. The end result: he simply faded away into oblivion after such good early promise. Although he had a decent record in the shorter format, he never broke through in the longer one.
Tait was just one example. There were others too who depended on raw pace to make an entry and never made it big. Fidel Edwards of the West Indies, Mohammad Sami of Pakistan and Chris Silverwood of England. All the names mentioned here had plenty of zip but lacked the consistency to trouble the batters regularly at the highest level.
Factors that can affect raw pace:
India’s Bowling Coach, Bharat Arun had talked about managing a fast bowler and how data is used actively during training sessions. During a briefing last year, Arun had said a fast bowler runs up to 20 kms in a day on the field. Now, that is staggering and strengthens the case for proper workload management.
There are several examples of how good workload and talent management helped many raw pacers emerge into greats of the game over a period of time. Brett Lee, Allan Donald and Mitchell Starc have enjoyed long and successful careers thanks to excellent workload management.
Coming back to Umran, India should learn lessons from the game’s past as they don’t have too many to learn from their own history. The good news is there’s no better person for talent and workload management than Rahul Dravid. Having gone through the ranks himself as a player and as an under-19 coach for several years, it can be safely assumed that Dravid will chart out a long-term plan for Umran and that will most definitely include multiple formats.
India before the T20 World Cup
Leading up to the T20 World Cup campaign kicking off on Oct 23 (against Pakistan at MCG), India has a packed calendar of T20s. Between June 10th and October 23rd, India will be playing 15 T20 internationals in pretty much diverse conditions. Five against South Africa at home right now, two in Ireland, three in England and five at home against the West Indies. Now, that’s sizable workload management to be blended with right preparation for the big event.
So, the big question will always remain – What would be the right time to unleash Umran? And where? Australia during the World Cup considering those reasonably bouncy tracks would come in handy? Or will it be too much of a risk considering the Australian tracks, while being bouncy, can be a batter’s paradise? For me, launching him in Ireland where India is set to play two T20s would be close to perfect. Away from the limelight, he will get to be himself and that could well allow him to settle his nerves.
At the end of the day, what is most important from India’s perspective is raw talent transforms into consistent performance. And for that to happen, it is important euphoria marries realism. After all, untapped talent equals wasted experience while undermanaged talent equals lost opportunity. As the universe waits for the Umran thunderbolts, for the moment, let’s sit back and enjoy cricket lovely cricket.
Rajesh Viswanathan was a sports Commentator at Zee Sports and a former Managing Editor (Sports) at Microsoft)