Kolkata: There are no prizes for guessing that Umran Malik, the 22-year-old express bowler from Jammu & Kashmir whom they call ‘Deccan Express,’ has been the biggest impact player of the IPL 2022 season so far. Every Sunrisers Hyderabad game now raises expectations of Malik surpassing himself on the speed gun and even against Delhi Capitals on Thursday - a match they lost as he went wicketless - he clocked the fastest delivery of the season at 156.9 kmph.
It was on a day when Malik didn’t really have a good day in office, getting clobbered for 52 runs without a wicket while it was the second game on the trot where the batsmen seemed to be using his pace to pick up boundaries at will. He was nearly 0.7 kph faster than Anrich Nortje’s 156.22 kph delivery in 2020, which was logged by the IPL as the fastest delivery between 2012 and 2020.
At the Wankhede Stadium the other day, a fan was holding a placard which read: ‘‘I am here to see Umran Malik’s bowling,’’ while the call is getting louder of fast-tracking him into the national team.
The likes of Umran, Abdul Samad or Rashik Salam have got people talking about cricket in the region, but fact remains that we had been doing well in domestic cricket for quite a while now. Under my leadership, J&K made the quarters of Ranji Trophy in 2014 and let me assure you that there is an abundance of talent here
Joining the chorus is Parvez Rasool himself, the J&K allrounder who has been a pioneer of sorts in showing that the Valley has enough cricketing talent to make the cut in the biggest T20 franchise league as well as the Indian team. A tenacious off spinner and handy lower order batter, Rasool was the first cricketer from J&K to make the IPL when the now defunct Sahara Pune Warriors signed him up in 2013, which was followed by another three years with Sunrisers Hyderabad (2014-15) and Royal Challengers Bangalore (2016).
‘‘Given the form that Umran is in, I think BCCI should try to fast-track him in the Indian squad across all formats. There is some talk that he should be preserved for red ball cricket, but remember he made his presence felt in T20 only when the Indian team management drafted him as a net bowler in the squad for the T20 World Cup in the UAE last year on the basis of his performance in IPL 2021,’’ said Rasool, who was also the first player from his state (now a union territory) to play for India in one ODI and a T20 International.
Speaking to Gulf News during a phone interview, Rasool said that the biggest takeaway from Umran’s performance is that it will inspire more kids to run in hard and bowl fast like him. ‘‘The likes of Umran, Abdul Samad or Rashik Salam have got people talking about cricket in the region, but fact remains that we had been doing well in domestic cricket for quite a while now. Under my leadership, J&K made the quarters of Ranji Trophy in 2014 and let me assure you that there is an abundance of talent here,’’ said Rasool.
Life has changed for Umran in the past one year when from being a net bowler for the Orange Army in the run-up to IPL 2021, he was drafted in as a replacement for T. Natarajan, who went out due to Covid-19. He made an immediate impact with his raw pace, producing the second-fastest ball of the tournament, a 152.95 kph brute against Royal Challengers Bangalore. When the Sunrisers management decided to retain just two players - skipper Kane Williamson and Umran before the mega auction, their wisdom was questioned, but not anymore.
‘‘He made full use of the opportunities this year and the management is in no position to drop him from the playing XI. There could be the odd bad days, but Imran is a quick learner - you can make out from the control over his yorkers. He is benefitting from his association with Dale Steyn, their fast bowling coach, and will add the other variations,’’ Rasool said.
While the spotlight is trained on Umar this year, there are at least two more young tyros from J&K who have caught the eyes of the IPL spotters. Basit Bashir. a 19-year-old from Kupwara and a product of MRF Pace Academy, is currently a part of Punjab Kings as their net bowler while Sharukh Ahmed Dar, a 26-year-old swing bowler from Srinagar, is a net bowler for the Sunrisers.
Both of them acknowledge the contribution of Irfan Pathan, the former Indian allrounder and now a TV pundit, who worked as a mentor for the J&K for two years from 2018. “Umran has set a great example for us. If I manage to impress Dale Steyn and Tom Moody this season, maybe I will be playing for the SRH next season,” Dar said in an interview.
Pathan, meanwhile, sounded confident that there will be more Abdul Samads and Umran Maliks from Jammu and Kashmir. “There are a lot of youngsters in Jammu and Kashmir who are coming to cricket. Which is the best thing that has happened to India,” he said recently.
However, Rasool offers a reality check as he wants the governing body of the union territory to do more in terms of setting up infra-structure and facilities for their cricketers. ‘‘Till now, there are only two proper stadia here - one in Jammu and one in Srinagar and we have 22 districts. There is also a dearth of turf wickets - whatever we are doing is despite the system and not because of it. If the facilities are not improved, you may even see a talent-drain in near future,’’ he added.