In his first training session with the India side in Guwahati, after recovering from a stress fracture in his back, Jasprit Bumrah ran in at full tilt and knocked back the flexible stumps with his very first ball. It was a thrilling sight that top-flight cricket had missed for four months. Rain, and wet patches on the Barsapara pitch, however, forced the abandonment of the T20I series opener against Sri Lanka, and delayed Bumrah's return to action.
The 26-year old's first ball in international cricket, in Indore, was a wayward inswinger that slipped down the leg side and Rishabh Pant made it look even more wayward by fumbling and conceding an extra run. The next ball was a floaty wide half-volley that was belted on the up through extra-cover by opener Avishka Fernando. Bumrah was showing signs of rust, and was just feeling his way back into professional cricket. After all, this was his first game since the Jamaica Test in September 2019.
He was initially slated to prove his fitness and form in the Ranji Trophy for his state team Gujarat before returning to the India set-up. However, Bumrah was pulled out at the last moment as the team management reportedly opted against putting him through the four-day grind.
On Tuesday in Indore, Bumrah had a lighter workout, bowling four spells of one over each without showing any apparent signs of discomfort. And although he became India's joint-highest T20I wicket-taker, his bowling lacked the bite we are so used to these days. Sure, it was a flat pitch and a small ground, but Bumrah wound up conceding six fours - of which three came in the last over of the innings. It was also the first time in 34 T20 innings that he had conceded more than two boundaries in the last over.
In the lead-up to the T20I series, Sri Lanka captain Lasith Malinga, who has mentored Bumrah at Mumbai Indians in the IPL, reckoned that his protégé might be rusty on his comeback and that the visitors will look to use that to their advantage. Allrounder Wanindu Hasaranga certainly used that to his advantage in the final over of Sri Lanka's innings, going 4, 4, 4 to haul Sri Lanka past 140.
With third man up in the circle, Bumrah ventured a slower offcutter, but went too short and wide. Hasaranga anticipated the variation, opened the face of his bat, and dinked it between short third man and backward point for four. Bumrah then went for the yorker, which is perhaps the most difficult ball to execute. Overpitch it, it's a full-toss. Under-pitch it, it's a half-volley. Bumrah, though, has mastered it so much that we rarely see him miss his length. But, devoid of enough match practice, he under-pitched it, and Hasaranga lined him up and cracked it through extra-cover.
After the attempted yorker went awry, Bumrah slipped in a bouncer, but a fortunate top edge fetched Hasaranga another four. Bumrah finished with 1 for 32 in his four overs, which in isolation is impressive on an easy-paced, hit-through-the-line track. However, it paled in comparison to the figures of Navdeep Saini (2 for 18) and Shardul Thakur (3 for 23) and the steep benchmark Bumrah has set for himself.
He did, however, produce some sparks of brilliance to briefly entertain a packed Indore crowd. After a shaky start, Bumrah reminded the world of his exaggerated incoming angle to the right-hander from wide of the crease and zipped one past the inside edge of Avishka. Then, Bumrah hit speeds upwards of 140kph and opened up Danushka Gunathilaka, when he beat his outside edge.
Bumrah then opened up the big-hitting Dasun Shanka with a 114kph offcutter that hit the top of middle and threw the bails beside Pant's feet. He had his arms spread wide before clapping his hands and wheeling away in celebration. The Indore crowd roared in approval while Mahela Jayawardene, his Mumbai Indians coach, who was on TV commentary summed it up, saying, "smart bowling from Bumrah."
Now that Bumrah has crossed the first hurdle on his comeback, India will be looking forward to the old magic from their premier paceman in Pune and later in New Zealand.