Nagraj Gollapudi and Raunak Kapoor
Umran Malik needs to be given a central contract "straightaway" by the BCCI, in the opinion of Ravi Shastri, who also believes Malik will be "a handful" in first-class cricket and has the potential to even be part of the Indian Test set-up subject to him being put on the development pathway by Indian cricket authorities.
Malik, who recently clocked 156.9 kph, possibly the fastest ball in IPL history, is also the fourth-highest wicket-taker this IPL with 21 wickets in 13 matches at an average of 20 and economy rate of 8.93. Playing his first full IPL season, Malik has already bagged a five-for [the second-best figures so far this season], but it is his raw, uninhibited pace that has troubled batters, brought fans to the edge of the seats and excited pundits like Shastri.
"Central contract straightway," Shastri said on ESPNcricinfo's T20 Time Out after Malik put on another impactful performance with a three-wicket haul in Sunrisers Hyderabad's win against Mumbai Indians on Tuesday. "And keep him in the mix, don't let him float around. Keep him in the mix with the main players and then he learns seeing (and) being around with the [Mohammed] Shamis and the [Jasprit] Bumrahs, and see the way they train, see the way they manage their workload.
"Of course, there'll be the team management there, support staff, that'll help him do that, but don't let him stray at the moment. Get him into the mix, and keep him there and groom him."
While Malik has rattled the best batters in the IPL - on Tuesday, Malik hit Rohit Sharma in the helmet - with his extreme pace as well as uprooted stumps, someone like Shami has called on him to focus on combining "pace with accuracy".
"He'll get better and better," Shastri said. "You see his bowling once he takes a wicket. Look at the lines he starts bowling as opposed to when he has not got a wicket - that's when he is trying everything, his lines are all over the place. You don't want him to cut down on pace. The last thing you would tell him looking for control, cut down on pace. What you want him to do is get his lines right: if he can bowl that stump line, attack the stumps on a constant basis, varying his lengths, he will trouble [batters].
"If he gets a wicket and new guy comes in, he can really rattle him because he has got the pace, he can keep the bloke on his toes, but it's that line - if he gets into that channel, without cutting his pace it will make a huge difference."
And if Malik could stick to that plan, Shastri said he would not be surprised if Malik is soon be part of the Indian Test squad. "I promise you, this guy is going to be a handful in red-ball cricket. Handful, really. If he is part of an Indian pace battery that (already) has Bumrah, Shami, you add this bloke in (as) a fourth guy, it's going to be a serious attack."
At 22, Malik is enjoying the best time of his life, doing something that comes naturally to him: bowling fast. But you can sense he is also hearing what the experts are saying. After the win on Tuesday, Malik was keen to understand how his senior Sunrisers team-mate Bhuvneshwar Kumar had bowled a maiden in the penultimate over of Mumbai's chase.
Bhuvneshwar pointed out that he had worked out delivering yorkers was the "best option" based on the behaviour of the pitch, and he managed to pull it off. Malik then wanted to know what was the key to bowling successfully in death overs, the most difficult phase in T20 cricket. "The most necessary thing in death bowling is to keep yourself calm because what happens often is the pressure comes as soon as a boundary is hit," Bhuvneshwar told Malik in a chat on iplt20.com. "So the only thing I will say is how much you can keep calm and have a calm mind then it will help you."