Express News Service

150 kmph. 151.9 kmph, 153 kmph. In a league where Lockie Ferguson, Anrich Norjte, Kagiso Rabada and Adam Milne are around, it is Umran Malik, the 21-year-old fast bowler from Jammu & Kashmir who has recorded the fastest ball of the tournament. Net bowlers going on to get a chance in the first XI has been a common theme since the pandemic, but for Umran, who was bowling with tape balls and playing tennis ball cricket in Srinagar only a couple of years ago, this has been quite a journey. Not to mention he has just played one match for his state at the senior level.

Growing up in an environment where there wasn’t infrastructure to pursue cricket, he was fortunate that in Abdul Rashid Malik, he had a father, who allowed him to pursue what he wanted. “After two daughters, I always wanted a boy. We were blessed with a baby boy almost 12 years after my second daughter so everyone loves him a lot,” senior Malik says recollecting the days where he would come home only to find Umran bowling at his two sisters, Shehnaz and Saima, and mother, Seema Baby. “He wouldn’t even allow them to have food or prepare. He never touched the bat… all that he did was bowl, bowl and bowl.”

When opportunity allowed him to play outdoors, Umran, who spent a lot of time indoors growing up, was a sought-out bowler. He even travelled to Punjab and Delhi to feature in tennis-ball tournaments. “He always had pace,” says Muneeb Munaf, who has played age-group cricket among others with and against Umran. “But, he was not like this. He has changed a lot in recent times for the good. Earlier, he used to jump high and was wayward. So we (batsmen) knew he would bowl at least one bad ball per over. So it was a big surprise for us to see him bowl this well in the IPL. He has definitely worked hard and we are already fretting at just the thought of playing him in the nets,” adds Muneeb.

While his bowling and hardwork have been praised by the Sunrisers management, Muneeb says there have been days many of them feared he wouldn’t realise his talent: speed. Although it came naturally to him, thanks to his quick action, Muneeb says playing in tape ball cricket has helped him a great deal. “He is even quicker in tape ball. Here we play one vs one game. Just batsman and the bowler. And imagine him bowling yorkers at that pace. It was a nightmare for batsmen. Some people even used to place bets up to `1 lakh on Umran winning one vs one contests. The only thing lot of us used to tell him was to take cricket seriously. He was too playful and wouldn’t even go to gym. We are just happy he is doing it now.”

The first big turnaround in his career came three years ago when Umran went for a trial camp overseen by former India all-rounder Irfan Pathan, who was player-mentor for Jammu & Kashmir. There were two things that Pathan still remembers that stood out about Umran. “One his pace and the other, his jump.

He has a beautiful action and has good alignment at the top, his arms are closer to the body. But the only issue was he used to jump a lot in the delivery stride and lose control. His body was not in control, all the energy was going into the jump which was going away from the batter. It needs to go towards the batter. So I just worked on that aspect and told him to stop tennis-ball cricket. Full credit to him because he worked on the changes. Now he has to play domestic cricket regularly. His pace has excited, but he needs to grow. That is important,” Pathan says.

On Friday night, there will be another opportunity to see him bowl howitzers. Tune in.