In World Cup year, should Jasprit Bumrah play Tests?

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Something curious is unfolding about Jasprit Bumrah and the direction Indian cricket is taking. In the conventional narrative, his inclusion in the ODIs against Sri Lanka after months spent on rehab for a severe back injury, has been couched as a warm-up preparatory run for the marquee Test series against Australia, which will decide India’s fate in the World Test Championship. But it is understood that even for the four Tests against Australia in February-March, there is no guarantee he will be included and even if he is part of the squad, the team management will take a call on his inclusion only on a match-by-match basis. Perhaps, if all goes well, he might play in a Test or two. Then, why the hurry to blood him in a bilateral ODI series?

With no Jasprit Bumrah, India’s frailties with the ball have been laid bare at times. (File)

After the debacle of trying to rush him for the T20 world cup, worsening his injury in the process, even the chief selector Chetan Sharma had admitted the mistake. “We tried to hurry up Jasprit Bumrah, we tried to get him with the World Cup coming. And see what has happened? We are without Jasprit Bumrah in the World Cup,” he had said as if someone had forced his hand. They did seem extra cautious after that.

With this Sri Lanka series not holding any weightage, their initial plan was to keep him for the important matches and to give him more time to heal all concerns. With the BCCI saying they would monitor players at the IPL, it would be interesting to see how they go about Bumrah, who is part of Mumbai Indians.

According to those in the know of things, Bumrah had already cleared the fitness test when the selectors met to pick the T20I and ODI squads for the Sri Lanka series. But they didn’t select him and it hardly raised any eyebrows. But last week, as the T20Is against Sri Lanka began, the BCCI added Bumrah for the three-match ODI series beginning on Tuesday, giving away where their priorities lie.

India’s think-tank also knows Bumrah is most needed at the World Cup than in other squads. Although the WTC final is a huge event, India believe in home conditions, they can get the qualification job done with Mohammed Shami, Mohammed Siraj and Umesh Yadav with the spin trio of R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Axar Patel around to compliment them. In case Bumrah is not available for the Tests, there is also the possibility of Umran Malik being part of the Test team’s plans as he can definitely bring an edge with his pace.

Jasprit Bumrah (2) Jasprit Bumrah.

The announcement to include Bumrah for the ODIs arrived just a couple of days after the review meeting of the BCCI where they decided to monitor the targeted Indian players for the 2023 World Cup. With the World Cup on home soil taking precedence, the BCCI is planning to manage Bumrah all the more cautiously, meaning he will feature in more ODIs than any other formats this year.

Make no mistake, the ODIs against Sri Lanka or the one that follows against New Zealand are inconsequential for India in the bigger scheme of things. They have a crucial Border-Gavaskar series coming up. And for a team that is already without Rishabh Pant, Bumrah is all the more needed against Australia. And he is their X-factor; never in their history, India have had a fast bowler like Bumrah. But such is the state of his fitness, their worries, and the ODI World Cup looming large at home, they are trying to prep Bumrah for the ODI mega event.

Jasprit Bumrah Jasprit Bumrah in action.

If that’s the case, should they risk him for the Sri Lanka series or wait until the IPL? Hopefully the call to include him to play the Sri Lanka series isn’t a prep for the Australia Tests. If they are in two minds, and are rushing him, then yet again it might turn out to be an unwise decision.

Although players, especially fast bowlers, returning from long injury lay-offs are usually told to play a domestic fixture to prove fitness, it was not deemed necessary in case of Bumrah. Despite the Ranji Trophy being underway, the reluctance to make him play just shows the team management and BCCI don’t want to take any risk with Bumrah. Incidentally, the last time he suffered a lower-back stress and made a comeback, he was supposed to feature in a Ranji game for the fixture, but was pulled-out later on.

Stress reactions in the back can tend to cause long term problems for fast bowlers. Despite adequate rest and rehab being mandatory, such was India’s desperation that they even played him in the T20Is that preceded the T20 World Cup. And Bumrah lasted all of two matches.

Jasprit Bumrah Jasprit Bumrah during a net session. (Photo: PTI)

Bumrah is outright special. That he came at a point in time, India’s fast bowling riches were growing meant, for a country that used to come to a standstill only when their batting genius’ were in the middle, people just tuned in to watch Bumrah bowl. And then few Indian bowlers can sort of create a psychological fear in the opposition like the way Bumrah does. Such bowlers, especially fast bowlers are rare these days.

And at the last T20 World Cup, although their batting was their weakest link, Bumrah’s absence was felt a lot. Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Shami and Harshal Patel didn’t have much of an impact in the death overs as India were short on answers with the ball. A repeat of it at the ODI Cup means, they can kiss goodbye to winning the title.

The Australia pace great Jeoff Thompson also believes Bumrah has to pick and choose the format he plays. “In a player’s career, it is only a decade that you can bowl at the top. So more than emotion, it is about what works for you. What makes your career work better and what helps you serve your country for longer,” Thompson told PTI. “If people love to see him bowl for India in white ball cricket and he can help India win World Cups, why should he give up on white ball for other formats? That he can’t play all formats is evident to everyone because of the number of times he is getting injured.”

Has Bumrah and India decided that at least this World Cup year, it will be mainly the ODIs for Bumrah? And how are they going to monitor him at the IPL? Will they resist the temptation to play him in Tests? The answers will determine Bumrah’s immediate and long-term future.


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