Jasprit Bumrah
India’s Jasprit Bumrah in action during the ICC Men's Cricket World Cup. His two wickets against Pakistan in Ahmedabad on October 14, 2023, have come in for special praise — the first one an off-cutter and the second a reverse-swinging delivery. Image Credit: AP

Jasprit Bumrah walked away with the Player of the Match award after India defeated Pakistan in the Cricket World Cup. Seldom does a two-wicket haul fetch the award. Moreover, there were several other superb performances at the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad on Saturday. So how did Bumrah land the award?

The Indian pace spearhead had a decent first spell, but he wasn’t threatening. When he came for a second go at the Pakistani batsmen, India’s Mohammad Siraj and Kuldeep Yadav had made the key incisions. When Pakistan captain Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan strung together a solid partnership, Siraj struck.

Azam’s dismissal was followed by two quick strikes from Yadav. The left-arm leg-spinner broke the Pakistani middle order by packing off Saud Shakeel and Ifthikar Ahmed. Five wickets down for 166, and that was when Bumrah delivered the blows that sent the Pakistani innings into a tailspin.

How Bumrah set up Rizwan’s wicket

Those two wickets were the product of high-quality deliveries. Rizwan was in his stride doing things that he does best — squeezing out ones and twos, interspersed with a pull shot or a cover drive to the boundary.

There’s something of a Javed Miandad in Rizwan: he’s a busybody, always finding ways to keep the scoreboard moving, although Rizwan doesn’t chat as much as Miandad. And both put a premium on their wicket. That makes the wicket of Rizwan special, and it required a superb delivery.

Bumrah kept Rizwan quiet with pacy deliveries around the off-stump before slipping in an off-cutter. Same action, same arm speed, but a different snap of the wrist. It slowed the ball, which gripped the pitch outside the off-stump and cut back to find the bat-pad gap. Rizwan was flummoxed — a set batter undone by a special delivery.

Mohammad Rizwan
Pakistan’s Mohammad Rizwan is bowled out by India's Jasprit Bumrah (not in picture) in the ICC Men's Cricket World Cup match in Ahmedabad on October 14, 2023. India won by seven wickets. Image Credit: Reuters

Just as I was marvelling at its execution Bumrah delivered another gem, the ball swinging past the defensive blade of Shadab Khan. The Pakistani allrounder hasn’t been among the runs recently, but this dismissal had nothing to do with his form. It was pure magic, the magic of reverse swing.

Shadab was on the back foot as Bumrah angled the ball in from wide of the crease, and it straightened to dislodge the bails. It was top-drawer stuff. Pakistan never recovered. A hurried 85 from Indian skipper Rohit Sharma wrapped up the match.

It wasn’t the number of wickets that decided the Player of the Match award. Or how the wickets impacted the game. It was the sheer quality of those deliveries.

How did Bumrah manage it? For over a year, he was ravaged by injuries, forcing him to miss international cricket, including the T20 World Cup in Australia and the Indian Premier League. A shortlived return was followed by back surgery in New Zealand and lengthy rehabilitation.

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His first international cricket since September 2022 was the T20 series against Ireland two months back — a series that showed that the 29-year-old was approaching his best. Any doubts about Bumrah’s fitness were set to rest in India’s first match at the World Cup. He claimed two Australian wickets with tight spells as India overcame a shaky start to win.

More evidence of Bumrah returning to his best was the two wickets in the Pakistan match. Those strikes were so special that they left me asking for more. And it left the distinct impression that Bumrah will have to continue playing a significant role if India have to win their third World Cup. More so since Siraj is struggling to find his rhythm.

Spinners Kuldeep Yadav and Ravindra Jadeja have been brilliant, but Bumrah’s strikes will decide India’s fortunes in the World Cup. Much like the game against Pakistan.