Abdul Samad has perhaps done Indian Cricket its biggest favour in recent times. Introducing Umran Malik as a net bowler to the Sunrisers Hyderabad squad in 2020, eventually paved the way to international recognition for India’s latest (and fastest) bowling sensation. Meet Umran Malik: the Jammu Express. The speedster is able to rack up speeds in excess of 150km/h almost every delivery. He has hurried cricketing royalty in KL Rahul, Virat Kohli and Hardik Pandya. The likes of Ravi Shastri are now calling for him to be rushed into the Indian set up.
The Jammu Express is a product of the ever-reliable tennis ball system in South East Asia. Tennis ball cricket in South-East Asia is the equivalent of Futsal or Street Football in Brazil. It has produced the likes of Wasim Akram, Shoaib Akhtar and Haris Rauf, just as futsal gave Brazil Neymar and Vinicius Jr. The newest product is Umran malik. In fact, Malik’s story bears more than a passing similar to the rapid rise to the stardom of Rauf, with neither player exposed to professional cricket till late in their teenage years.
For Malik, his first exposure to professional cricket was at the Jammu and Kashmir U-19 level in 2018. Until then, his only focus and skill was to sling the light-weighted tennis ball as fast as possible. Tennis ball cricket forced him to focus only on speed, the loose, rapid wrists of tennis ball batters ensure that if the ball isn’t full with sufficient speed, the bowler’s economy is bound to be astronomically large. However, since making the entrance to professional cricket the Jammu Express has not looked back. Through the help of experienced cricketing stalwarts such as Irfan Pathan and Dale Steyn- Malik has been able to hone his skills.
Malik’s breakthrough moment came in the UAE. For the second half of the 2021 IPL season, Malik was drafted in by Sunrisers Hyderabad as an injury replacement for T Natarajan. Malik started the final few games at the end of a turbulent and unsuccessful campaign for the Hyderabad franchise, making an instant impression despite his team’s struggles. Not only did he have an aesthetically pleasing action, he was able to genuinely hurry batters with speeds in excess of 150 kmph.
However, more is required of a bowler than just pace. The Jammu Express was quick, but he was also raw. He had little to no control over his line and length, and at the pace he was bowling that was a recipe for disasters. Batters flashed hard at him and the best amongst them, notably including Ishan Kishan, tore him down to size. Fortunately for Malik, he had age on his side and the SRH management showed a great amount of faith in the young quick, retaining him for the 2022 season.
So far it has proved to be an inspired decision may just be one of the best retentions of the season. Under the mentorship of Steyn, Malik has not looked back. He has breached Pandya’s defence twice, landing heavy-weight jabs on his body. He has also sent stumps flying on a regular basis. Shreyas Iyer. Shubman Gill. Abhinav Manohar. Wriddhiman Saha. Both experienced and young talents have been victims of the paceman. Malik is currently the second highest wicket-taker in the competition with 15 wickets and best figures of 5/25 against the table-toppers Gujarat Titans. The result is that an India call-up might not be far away.
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