Umran Malik: Nurture This Raw Talent

umran malik

He is not from the troubled, picturesque, paradise Valley. He is from Jammu. And soon, sooner than India or the world can imagine, Umran Malik, 22, the newest fast-bowling sensation, will play for India in the world stage.

According to another opening batting legend, who has faced the best of fast bowlers during his hey-days, on fast-tracks, in foreign lands, and without a helmet or any other armoured gear to protect his body, he should straight-away play for India in the next England series.

So how does he bowl the fierce pace of 157 kph, reminding of Australian fast-bowling legends, Dennis Lillie and Jeff Thomson? “Uparwala dalva-de toh daal denge, Inshallah (I can only bowl like this if the Almighty wills it),” he said.

No wonder, he sends flying kisses to the sky every time he rattles the stumps, with the batsman being totally clueless. Indeed, of the five men he dismissed in an IPL game, four were international cricketers, including David Miller, Wriddiman Saha and Hardik Pandya. With 12 dot balls, and four of the batters clean-bowled, his final figures were telling: 4-0-25-5.

As humble as he can be, the young man comes from a modest family with his father, Abdul Rashid Malik, being a fruit and vegetable seller. His father, delighted, told the Indian Express: “You know how this age is. There are a lot of youngsters who are spoiling their lives by taking drugs and such. I was worried. But he convinced us that the only ‘nasha’ (high) he has is playing cricket, so the family need not to be worried. Sometimes, I used to hide and see whether he was actually playing or not.”

Fast-bowler T Natarajan was inflicted with Covid during IPL 2021. That is when the youngster got his first chance as a nets bowler. He clocked 153 kph of fierce speed against top class batsmen. Then Indian captain Virat Kohli saw through his raw talent and invited him to bowl at the nets for the Indian cricket team.

At 22, and still learning, fame waits for the youngster in the heady days to come. Certainly, he has to keep his feet firmly on the ground and not let the ground slip away in the pulsating success of initial success. IPL is all about bang-bang with no patience to show, fours and sixes, and the happy use of the cross bat, and four overs is nothing but a passing phenomenon when skills are not really tested. Like ever-patient spin bowlers, and India has had a legacy of the greatest spin bowlers in its cricket history, such as Erapalli Prasanna, Bhagwat Chandrashekhar, Bishen Singh Bedi (and R Ashwin now), there is much to learn from the complex and strategic art of great spin bowling. So great were these bowlers during the 1970s, that other spin legends like Padmakar Shivalkar and Rajinder Goel, with their huge tally of wickets in the Ranji Trophy, could never play for India!

Hence he has to look back, not in anger, but with the anticipation and curiosity of an eclectic learner. Kapil Dev bowled his heart out on flat pitches in India, almost always without a world-class fast-bowling partner at the other end, and not always getting the wickets, but he stopped the runs, put the opposition into defensive and led India from the front, as a bowler, fielder with perfect hands and as a batsman. His batting and bowling figures tell a remarkable story. Remember his 175 not out, not recorded on TV or radio, against Zimbabwe in the 1983 World Cup in England, when the entire team, in doldrums, had collapsed like a pack of cards, with Gavaskar starting with a zero!

He has to learn to bowl with the controlled aggression, strategic intelligence and thinking pace, mindful of his skills, such as Imran Khan, Dennis Lillie, Malcolm Marshal and Wasim Akram. Sheer pace can ravage his mind and body, and he should look at the book of Shoaib Akhtar, whose balls would fly past the off stump and the best of the batsman could not even see it.

Certainly, he would learn to respect the four slips and the gully, the forward short leg and cover-extra-cover, as he would run in from his end, over or round the wicket. He would also learn to respect the man on the other end, especially in the dreary and tiring form of Test cricket, the only authentic genre of the game with the mind playing a crucial role in the field. They could be classical musicians like David Gower, Brain Lara, Gundappa Vishwanath or VVS Lakshman, or, they could be perfect copy-book stylists exemplifying patience of the highest kind, such as Zaheer Abbas, Sunil Gavaskar, Rahul Dravid, Kane Williamson, ABD Villiers, among others – there are enough recordings of this greats to pick up the nuances of how to bowl to top class cricketers in the long form of the game.

With Irfan Pathan from Baroda as his player-mentor in Jammu and Kashmir, he can surely pick up crucial tips from the fast bowler, also from an extremely humble background. Irfan Pathan bowled like a dream at the international level when he was young and had just started his international career, but lost it faster than he could imagine – though much of the blame should be shared by the then Australian coach, Greg Chappel, who pushed him to one down in the big league, destroying both his fast-bowling talent, and his all-round skills. However, Irfan Pathan’s unassuming, child-like and disarming smile will remain forever — etched in the minds of his fans.

And so would, one should presume, the kisses in the sky flown by young Umran Malik from beautiful Jammu and Kashmir.

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