Malinga & Bumrah: The Perfect Week for the Apprentice and Mentor
Malinga has been the perfect teacher; one who stumbles and falls but never lets his student’s efforts go in vain.
While Lasith Malinga was recently trolled for his pot-belly during the World Cup, his understudy Jasprit Bumrah turned up booted and suited for ELLE magazine where he charmed the ladies with his retro-styled tuxedo and that unassuming air about him. His slick hairstyle was in huge contrast to the unkempt curls that Malinga is well known for, and as Bumrah, rather awkwardly, posed for the edition, the words sprawled across the cover could not be missed.
Starting off as a young Under-19 kid without much First-Class experience in the bag, Bumrah was locally spotted by ex-India coach John Wright in his annual scouting programme for IPL franchise Mumbai Indians. With a short run-up, a funny hop and an unusual arm action, which has been described as a “scooter action” by Indian teammate Ishant Sharma, Bumrah entered the world of glitz and glamour in 2013 without an idol in tow.
The hyperextension of Bumrah’s elbow along with his whippy action needed extra attention, and realising this, fellow Mumbai Indians bowler Malinga, who himself has been a bone of much contention for his distinctive round-arm action, or the ‘sling action’ voluntarily took up the role of mentoring, guiding, teaching and inspiring Bumrah.
From a raw, unpolished seamer, whose career could have gone horribly wrong if the coaches interfered to ‘correct’ Bumrah’s action, to now standing atop the podium in just over six years – a near-perfect bowler with pace and variations in his arsenal – the rise of the Ahmedabad cricketer is not only credited to his insane hours of hard work that he pitched in with, but also to the patient lessons imparted by Malinga, who, took it as a personal responsibility to ensure that Bumrah fights the odds to develop into the best version of himself.
3 May 2017: Bumrah Leaves the Nest
Four years after his first stint with Malinga, Bumrah showed signs of flapping his wings at Rajkot as he was ready to take on the world when Mumbai Indians tied an IPL league game with Gujarat Lions. Just as the fans were ready to watch Malinga in action in the super over – and why not, he was IPL’s highest wicket-taker then, with 149 scalps at an average of just 18.69 – they were in for a surprise as the management pushed Bumrah to the fore.
It was perhaps for the first time that Malinga might have been overlooked at the crunch, but instead of holding a resentment, the Sri Lankan was overfilled with joy as his ward first took the ball in a pressure game, and then successfully defended only 11 to help his team over the line.
Despite starting off with a wide and a no-ball to explosive batsmen Brendon McCullum and Aaron Finch, Bumrah was back bowling the slow full tosses and the pin-point yorkers that stalled the run-flow. It was an art that was well taught by Malinga, and one that was well lapped up by the novice. As a 23-year old shone bright that night, the smile on a 33-year old was hard to miss; tough to ignore.
12 May 2019: From a Teacher-Apprentice Pair to World Beaters
A lot changed in the careers of the two ‘rivals’ since that night at Rajkot till the starry night at Hyderabad earlier this year.
Bumrah shed aside his tag of being a limited-overs specialist as he played a massive role in India’s maiden Test triumph in Australia to become the leader of the pack. His ODI and T20 form looked up as well, as he collectively scalped 130 wickets across international cricket from the IPL of 2017 to the IPL this year. His average remained an impressive 22.46, and his importance was soon realised by the side.
Regular breaks were given to him, and it was no doubt – he would play a crucial role in India’s march in the World Cup as well.
Malinga, however, in this duration faced a slump of sorts.
He was expensive, his average across T20Is and ODIs crossed 36, he was inconsistent and a slew of injuries came to haunt him. His average touched 40.87 in 27 ODIs in this two-year period, while in T20Is, his economy rate neared 7.
However, what refused to dim was his enthusiasm and his passion for the game. He was ready to skip the highly lucrative IPL this year to play in a domestic competition back in Sri Lanka, as the selectors had conveyed that turning out for the event was a must if he wanted to be selected in the World Cup team. He missed a few games, and in his absence, it was Bumrah who took over the reigns with aplomb, guiding his team to the finals of the event.
Though Malinga returned soon after, it was the young Indian who overshadowed his mentor, and in many a game, it did appear like he was the chief-in-charge, with Malinga willingly stepping back to allow his pupil to soak in the limelight.
However, Malinga was always around, keeping a stern eye on his apprentice; correcting his flaws when he failed and upping his own game when Bumrah pitched in with a remarkable spell to not allow the latter’s efforts to go in vain. This was in full display in the summit clash against CSK, as the duo bowled two superb tight overs in the end to help Mumbai win by just a run.
After Malinga had been expensive in the first three overs, he returned to bowl the last over with only 9 to defend. Bumrah had taken the game to the wire after he gave away 9 in the penultimate over, and taking inspiration from him, Malinga too raised his game to not let the match slip away. As the Mumbai franchise celebrated their fourth win, the tight embrace shared by Bumrah and Malinga remained the highlight.
September 2019: ‘If You Can, So Can I’
It was a perfectly poetic week for the cricket lovers, who saw two hat-tricks being scalped by two bowlers in two parts of the world, incidentally the week when ‘Teacher’s Day’ was celebrated in India. Late night on Sunday, Bumrah bamboozled the Windies batsmen with his outswingers and his inswingers – yup, the craft of which he learnt from his maestro – to complete his first hat-trick in cricket. It was the perfect tribute.
Six days later, at Pallekele, it was Malinga, who churned out yorker-after-yorker and inswinger-after-inswinger to trump Bumrah and pick up four wickets in four deliveries, to show the Kiwi players that he still has it in him even at the ripe age of 36.
And that remains their bond – eager to outdo the other like competitors, but also stuck in deep awe for the other’s talent, which is regularly highlighted with their praise of one another.
Through the last six years, Malinga has remained the perfect teacher; one who stumbles and falls but never lets the efforts of his ‘shishya’ Bumrah go in vain.
Boom, on the other hand, is much like the observant and disciplined novice – not sledging the rivals because Malinga asked him not to. Flashing a coy smile when hit for a six, because Malinga taught him to. Winning the world over with his deliveries, and not by unnecessarily hogging attention with deep stares, just like Malinga advised him to.
There, then, is not much of a difference in their approach – both remain dreamers and high achievers. Just one is with a pot belly. The other, with a retro tuxedo, who can charm the ladies with that unassuming air of his.
(Sarah Waris is a postgraduate in English Literature has taken on the tough task of limiting the mystic world of cricket to a few hundred words.)
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