Jasprit Bumrah. Photo: Craig Golding/AFP
Jasprit Bumrah. Photo: Craig Golding/AFP

Zaheer Khan is my hero: Jasprit Bumrah

India's newest pace sensation on bowling yorkers at will, his idols, and on making an impressive debut in Australia

On his first outing for Team India, during the One Day International (ODI) and Twenty20 (T20) series in Australia last month, Jasprit Bumrah performed impressively. M.S. Dhoni called him the “find of the Australia tour". Dhoni has long lamented the lack of a specialist death bowler, and in Bumrah—with his pinpoint yorkers—the captain finally seems to have found what he was looking for. Bumrah continued his fine form in the recently concluded T20 series against Sri Lanka, and is looking to make a similar impact in the forthcoming T20 World Cup in India (8 March-3 April).

In an interview, the 22-year-old pacer from Gujarat speaks about his journey to international cricket, the players who influenced and shaped him, and his expectations from the World Cup. Edited excerpts:

You have had a fantastic start to your career. What was it like making your debut against Australia in their country?

It’s always a nice feeling when you contribute to the team’s success. Honestly speaking, I was a bit nervous to start with, but settled down quickly. I wasn’t overawed because my teammates told me to treat the game as a domestic game only. Senior team members like Dhoni bhai and Virat (Kohli) advised me not to take any kind of extra pressure. It also helped that I had played with many international players in the Indian Premier League (IPL), so it (the stage) wasn’t entirely surprising.

If a month back someone had told me I would be playing in the T20 World Cup, I would not have believed it. Forget making it to the World Cup squad, if someone had told me a couple of months back that I would be playing for India, I would have just smiled.

In one of the matches in Australia, Ishant Sharma asked for the same field placement that you had used in a previous over. That must have felt good.

We had a plan as a bowling group and it was just that he liked my field placements. Of course, you feel nice about this, but as a youngster I try to learn as much as I can from my seniors.

What are your thoughts on your captain saying that you were the find of the tour?

He (Dhoni) is a great player and obviously I was delighted to hear that kind of praise. I was trying to do everything he wanted me to do. It was a dream to share the dressing room with him.

You made your breakthrough with the Mumbai Indians in the IPL in 2013. What role have they played in shaping your career?

I am grateful that they gave me my big break in the IPL. I played in the IPL before I played in the Ranji Trophy for Gujarat that same year. That definitely fast-tracked me into national reckoning.

I will also forever be indebted to John Wright (former India coach). I tell him this every time I meet him. I thanked him again when I was picked for India. If he hadn’t come to watch that Mushtaq Ali tournament in Ahmedabad in 2013, I wouldn’t have played in the IPL so early, and everything else which has happened in my life perhaps would not have fallen into place so smoothly. Also, very importantly, Mumbai Indians allowed me to play cricket with Sachin (Tendulkar). Otherwise, it would have been impossible to share a dressing room with him. There were other great players in Mumbai Indians who taught me some valuable cricketing lessons.

You mean like Ricky Ponting?

Ponting’s thinking was refreshing; his approach was very different from ours. He used to tell us that there is always a way to get out of the toughest situations only if we are inclined to think and apply ourselves. It has been a great learning experience under his coaching in the IPL.

There is always some talk surrounding your unusual bowling action. Some compare it to Sri Lanka’s Lasith Malinga. Did anyone ever tell you to modify your action?

Fortunately, nobody has ever asked me to change my action. I have been told to stick to my natural style and back my strength. I have been to many cricket camps and also had a stint with the MRF Pace Foundation in Chennai. No one had an issue with my action. Yes, I was told to work on my physique. My action is different from Malinga but I am in touch with him. He has helped me make the most of my action.

Who taught you to bowl yorkers? And to keep doing it under pressure in the death overs?

I have been doing this for my state side in domestic cricket. My captain (Parthiv Patel) trusted me during the death overs and that gave me confidence in my skill. Later on, when I joined Mumbai Indians, Malinga taught me some more relevant things about bowling yorkers. Using your most lethal weapon judiciously is also important. It’s not easy bowling in the death overs, but I enjoy the challenge. And I think it has helped that I started playing cricket with tennis balls, where you are compelled to bowl yorkers often.

What was it like sharing a new ball with someone like Ashish Nehra, who made his India debut when you were perhaps just five years old?

Yes, we spoke about this age difference in Australia. Nehra made his Test debut in Sri Lanka (1999) and I could never imagine that one day I would share the new ball with him. He has taught me some important lessons about bowling, especially on the mistakes to be avoided, mistakes that he had made as a youngster.

In one of your early games in the IPL, you had an interesting duel with Kohli. Did you have a chat about it when you met him in Australia?

No, we didn’t discuss anything related to the IPL. But he told me a very important thing about international cricket. He asked me never to lose confidence in myself. I admire his attitude. He always comes up with suggestions on my bowling. He tells me what a batsman like him would think or do in a particular situation. This helps my bowling.

Who are your bowling heroes?

Zaheer Khan is my hero, and I have spent some valuable time with him in the Mumbai Indians’ dressing room. Wasim Akram and Mitchell Johnson are two other bowlers I have looked up to, to learn many aspects of bowling.

It’s strange that you are a right-arm pacer and your idols are left-arm pacers.

It’s not about right arm or left arm. What I try to learn are the areas they worked on and their mindset while bowling to a particular batsman or in a particular situation. I also learn about their training methods.

What are your thoughts on the forthcoming World T20 tournament?

We will try to do our best. Before the World Cup, there are some important tournaments in which we would like to do well. And, of course, winning the World Cup at home will be the ultimate thing.

Vimal Kumar is the author of Sachin: Cricketer Of The Century and The Cricket Fanatic’s Essential Guide.