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Raw pace and nerveless accuracy: How Umran Malik regained Sunrisers' middle-overs control

While Rashid Khan was taken apart, Malik put in a spell of 3-0-10-1 with an average speed of close to 150kph

Saurabh Somani
This is not supposed to happen.
T20 matches, especially in an elite league like the IPL, are games within games. Sunrisers Hyderabad are playing against Royal Challengers Bangalore, but there's also Rashid Khan waiting to be unleashed on Glenn Maxwell and AB de Villiers. Royal Challengers' two most destructive batters have less than impressive records against Rashid in the IPL: de Villiers has scored 38 runs off 40 balls and has been dismissed three times coming into this game. Maxwell hasn't been dismissed in 26 balls, but he has scored only 19. The IPL numbers are the most relevant because that's the only place Rashid has been on equal footing, instead of in vastly mismatched teams.
If you're Kane Williamson on the field, you look at those numbers and go, 'This is where I deploy Rashid, when the first of those two come in.'
If you're in the Royal Challengers dugout, you think, 'The pitch is still holding and gripping a bit, this is where I turn my batting order around and draw a few overs from Rashid before my trump cards walk in and blast the others'.
Royal Challengers' Plan A would have been Virat Kohli and Devdutt Padikkal setting up a firm platform. When that failed, they sent in Daniel Christian with instructions to hit out. When that didn't happen, KS Bharat walked out at No. 4. Plan B also failed. Royal Challengers had the right plans, but if you could always execute your plans in cricket, there would be no need for an opposition. Enter Maxwell after 6.5 overs, three wickets down and without Rashid having to bowl. Enter Rashid, one ball later. A starting asking rate of 7.10 has ballooned to 8.00.
This is definitely not supposed to happen.
The first ball from Rashid that Maxwell faces is blasted over deep midwicket. There is a violence to the shot that makes a slog-sweep look like a Game-of-Thrones beheading. In Rashid's next over, Maxwell repeats the shot, not as cleanly and not as square, but with enough to get another six. Two balls later, he shows he can do finesse as well as brute force, twirling wrists to get a boundary to deep square leg.
The script has been upended by Maxwell. However badly IPL 2021 has gone for Sunrisers, they could always count on Rashid controlling the middle overs. And now Maxwell, in perhaps the IPL form of his life, is casually tearing that playbook with swishes of his bat. Without the safety net of Rashid's middle-overs control, there is no way Sunrisers can hope to defend a total as meagre as 141.
This cannot be happening.
That Sunrisers stayed in the game without allowing it to run away is down to Umran Malik. It could be a chant one day.
While Rashid was taken for 24 runs in two overs, Malik sandwiched him with a spell of 3-0-10-1. In what might have been unthinkable, Sunrisers have got a modicum of middle-overs control despite Rashid going for 12 an over, thanks to a 21-year-old playing only his second ever IPL game, and fourth game of white-ball cricket at the senior level (one List A, three T20s). Malik didn't just bowl quick, he bowled quick on a surface where the other bowlers are finding success by taking pace off the ball, with cutters that gripped. He bowled quick enough to have Maxwell - in supreme hitting form - hopping and being late on the ball. He bowled so quick he registered 153kph on the speed gun, the fastest delivery in IPL 2021 so far.
If he travelled at that speed from his hometown Jammu to Abu Dhabi, he'd get there in just a tick over 14 hours.
Cricketing journeys don't travel at the speed of an Malik thunderbolt, and his has barely begun. It has already taken him almost a full season of being a net bowler with Sunrisers, and then Covid-19 hitting a team-mate, to get an opportunity.
The first time Malik bowled to the likes of David Warner and Kane Williamson in the Sunrisers Hyderabad nets, he was scared. A fear borne out of nerves. "I was first scared to bowl to them, I was very nervous," he told "Then I prayed to god that let me bowl well to them. I thought if I have to beat them I have to hit the right length. I kept beating them and I learned from that, I kept bowling on that same length. That made a big difference."
"The first time I came for trials I didn't even know what spikes were. I was bowling in jogging shoes"
Umran Malik
At his first Under-19 trial, he didn't even know there existed shoes with spikes for fast bowlers. He was bowling in jogging shoes.
"I used to bowl quickly from the start. I used to play tennis-ball cricket, and there too I was the quickest. I would bowl fast yorkers there in one-over matches," he said. "In 2018, there was a trial for Under-19 cricketers. I bowled there and the selectors saw me. The first time I came for trials I didn't even know what spikes were. I was bowling in jogging shoes. A friend was there with me, he gave me spikes to play. So then I came into the Under-19 team for one-dayers. And the next year I played Under-23. I was practicing regularly since 2018. Then I played in the Vijay Hazare and Syed Mushtaq Ali. And then I was a net bowler with the franchise."
Team-mate Jason Holder confirmed how much of a tough time Malik had given the batters in the nets. "He's just been consistent in training, he's been giving us quite a hard time in training," Holder said at the post-match press conference. "He's been very, very hard to get hold of… Extra pace always adds a boost to any bowling attack. It's good to see his control as well too. A lot of guys who bowl quick over the years, may sometimes seem erratic but he's been pretty consistent. He's grouped really good deliveries together."
In his first three overs in particular, which Holder termed as a 'grouping' of good deliveries together was in evidence. There was movement off the pitch, to right-hander and left-hander, while the pace meant the batters had to be extra vigilant. Royal Challengers had prepared for Malik, but you can't exactly replicate facing 150kph deliveries in the middle.
"He tends to bowl hard lengths, so that was pretty clear in terms of what we were expecting today," Royal Challengers coach Mike Hesson said. "But yeah, if you haven't faced a bowler for the first time and they run in and bowl quick, obviously it does take a few balls to line it up. If he bowls nice and tight, which he did in terms of his lines, then it can be tough to score."
There are a lot of ingredients for success, with the one skill that can't be coached: pace. In time, Malik will be studied more, analysed more, have more advice in his ears, have people springing up to grab his 15 seconds of fame. But whether he makes it through that or not is for later. For now, it's about a 21-year-old pulling back a match in a trying period, and doing it while bowling 150kph. Pace is pace.

Saurabh Somani is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo