No player in recent times has so separated India from the rest of the pack quite like Jasprit Bumrah. To say that in the era of Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma is an adequate enough reflection of what Bumrah means to this team. It should also reveal the enormousness of the challenge facing the think tank as it sets about replacing the 28-year-old for the ICC T20 World Cup.
The third and final T20I in Indore on Tuesday, which South Africa won by 49 runs to avoid a clean sweep, offered very little cues. Three potential replacements in Deepak Chahar, Mohammed Siraj and Umesh Yadav all played. The trio bowled a combined 11 overs — across PowerPlay, middle overs and the death — and ended up conceding in excess of 11 runs per over.
Rilee Rossouw (100 n.o., 48b, 7x4, 8x6) and Quinton de Kock (68, 43b, 6x4, 4x6) took full advantage of the flattest of pitches and the Holkar Stadium’s small boundaries to rack up 227 runs. India, without Kohli and K.L. Rahul (both rested), played catch-up all evening, before falling short. The series, if anything, helped establish the pecking order of Bumrah’s replacements among the trio, with Chahar emerging at the top, on the virtue of his performances in the first two matches. His ability with the bat — he scored 31 off 17 balls in the finale — is a good add-on. A few extra runs can give a Bumrah-less India some insurance.
But Chahar is more of a PowerPlay operator with his lateral movement while India seeks cover for Bumrah’s death-overs mastery and express pace. Bowling in the latter half of the innings has, in fact, been Rohit’s Achilles heel. In Guwahati and Indore, from overs 13 to 20, India conceded 119 and 108 runs respectively.
Mohammed Shami, who is a standby in the World Cup squad, has enough experience of having played in Australia and possesses the skill required to excel on the bouncy pitches Down Under. He hits the deck with force and can bowl the hard lengths at genuine pace, making him a potentially good option all across a T20 innings.
But he is still no Bumrah, who on his day could make both the pitch and conditions redundant. However, Shami is short of matches, having missed both T20 series against Australia and South Africa because of COVID. But Rohit, in his presentation ceremony briefing on Tuesday, seemed to hint in the direction of the 32-year-old. “We’ve got to get someone in who’s got experience, who’s bowled in Australia,” the skipper said. “I don’t know who that guy is yet. There are a few in the reckoning, but we’ll make that call once we reach Australia.”
India coach Rahul Dravid felt that Bumrah’s absence was “a great opportunity for someone to stand up.” But Bumrah is such a freak of nature, in whom nearly all of the world’s best bowling skills seem to have amalgamated, that there can be no like-for-like replacement. India has a headache and it is not a good one.