The kind of start Umran Malik had to this IPL season could have demoralised any young bowler. Bowling his very first over of the season during the match between Sunrisers Hyderabad and Rajasthan Royals, Malik got smashed all around the park as Jos Buttler took 21 runs of his over, including two sixes and two fours.
That assault was enough to put pressure on a young mind like that of Malik and throw his radar completely off for the rest of the match. But the 22-year-old showed that he isn't someone who can be intimidated easily. His strength of character and temperament really stood out in the way he bowled his remaining overs in the match.
Malik made a terrific comeback and claimed two wickets while conceding just 18 more runs in his remaining three overs in the game. The first wicket was that of Buttler as he ended up edging a good length delivery that just skidded off the surface. Malik got his much-needed revenge with that wicket, that too just four overs after being smashed to every part of the ground. The second wicket was that of Devdutt Padikkal and the sight was one that any fast bowler dreams of, as Malik knocked the middle-stump out of the ground with yet another pacey delivery from round the wicket line.
With that spell, Malik showed that raw pace isn't just his only strength. In fact, his strong temperament and ability to learn and adapt quickly is also going to take him a long way. Even though he bowled some expensive spells in the three matches after their opening game against the Royals, Malik has really come into his own in the last two outings against Kolkata Knight Riders and Punjab Kings.
4-0-27-2 vs KKR
4-1-28-4 vs PBKS
The Steyn Gun Approves!
The figures above show how good Malik has been in these two matches and his performances have made a direct impact on SRH's fortunes as well, who have now won four games on the trot.
Malik left the world raving about him during the match against KKR as he impressed everyone with the execution of his plan against Shreyas Iyer. He set the batter up with a barrage of pacey short deliveries and then launched a searing yorker to clean him up completely. The planning and execution was so good that even SRH's bowling coach Dale Steyn jumped off his seat and started celebrating wildly in the dug out.
"Umran is fantastic. It (his performances) is no reflection of me at all. It's all him at the moment. He has got amazing skills, he is showing everybody, bowling 150 kph," Steyn said after SRH's win against KKR.
"I am kind of living through him, wishing I could do it. But it's all him at the moment. He is certainly somebody whom we should keep an eye on for the future," the former South African fast bowling great added.
Steyn's excitement about Malik tells us a lot of things. It tells us how special the youngster is and what he is capable of. Shreyas Iyer wasn't the only batter he troubled that day. Malik put Nitish Rana in discomfort as well and bowled an excellent over to Andre Russell in the death, as he conceded just two runs in those six deliveries.
And that performance against KKR wasn't even his best as he turned the heat on again in the very next match against Punjab Kings. Malik bowled a triple-wicket maiden, which is such a rarity in T20 cricket, right in the final over of the Punjab innings and made the world sit up and take notice of his talent once again.
He kept hurling fire-balls at the batters with his searing pace and got the rewards as well. An overall economy rate of 9.14 in this IPL season makes him look very expensive. But a lot of those runs he has conceded have been behind the wicket, off edges and mishits from batters.
Malik is far from being a finished product yet and there is still a long way to go for him to reach that level. But he has successfully managed to create fear in the minds and hearts of batters with his pace and that is working very well for him, and also for his team Sunrisers Hyderabad, at the moment.
"Frighten the Batters With Pace"
The youngster hasn't bowled any overs in the powerplay after Buttler's assault against him in their opening game. The SRH management has also realised that he is more suited in a middle-overs enforcer role than bowling with the fielding restrictions on. He hits the hard lengths consistently at high pace and that pushes the batters out of their comfort zone in the middle-overs. Malik also agrees to this as he said during the post-match presentation after the game against Punjab that his job in the team is 'to frighten the batters with pace.'
The other SRH bowlers are also benefiting from Malik's presence in the lineup. After the game against Punjab, Bhuvneshwar Kumar was asked how having a speed machine like Malik bowling alongside him helps his craft.
Kumar joked initially, saying, "It doesn't help me much as the batters think that this guy is slow, so let's go after him."
But he agreed later that it does increase his chances of picking up wickets as more and more batters try to attack him. That is a direct impact of the fear created by Malik from the other end.
There has also been a remarkable improvement in Malik's bowling approach in every game. He has shown better control over his line and lengths without compromising on his pace at all. And that is a very good sign for him and also the future of Indian cricket.
Malik also has some wise company at SRH. An experienced veteran like Bhuvneshwar is there to advise him in the field every time whereas talented peers like Marco Jansen, T Natarajan and Kartik Tyagi are also there to compete with him and push his limits throughout the season.
But the presence of Steyn in the SRH camp is the biggest boon for Malik. There is nobody better to teach and mentor him in the trade of fast bowling better than the South African great. Malik has turned into a passion project for Steyn now and it has just opened up endless possibilities about what the youngster could develop into in the future.