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Feature

Umran Malik, bringing the IPL alive with raw pace

Nearly 91% of all his deliveries this season have been above 140kmph... and that's only half the story

Jarrod Kimber
Jarrod Kimber
24-Apr-2022
"This is the moment so many look forward to in a Sunrisers [Hyderabad] encounter," Simon Doull says on commentary. "Umran Malik. Genuine pace, Umran Malik."
Malik is smiling. So is Nicholas Pooran, who has just taken the ball well above his head. Kevin Pietersen seems to have said yippee on air..
"There's pace, there's bounce, yes there is," Pietersen says. "Bang."
Matthew Hayden adds, "146 would you please?"
"Just a warm-up" Doull says, almost doubting what he has just seen.
Malik's first bouncer has taken this game to another level.
Even though Marco Jansen has taken three wickets in the second over and already opened up the match. Even though Jansen might well be the world's best bowler in a few years. He has decent pace, incredible height, seam, swing, is accurate, and uses a left arm. Two of those can get you a good career; three, and you're a long-term player. I don't know what having all six can do, because the only player even close was Bruce Reid, and we barely ever saw him fit.
Compared to him, Malik is fairly one-dimensional, but that singular skill is about the sexiest thing in our sport: raw pace.
Lots of bowlers are quick; we've never had this many bowlers who can deliver at over 90 miles - or 145 kilometres - per hour. But Malik is faster than that. He's in the Lockie Ferguson category. And there aren't that many others really with them.
It means that every ball is an event. So after that opening bouncer, the next one is a length ball, outside off stump, too wide and not exciting, but that doesn't douse down the excitement at all.
A quick technical explanation follows, showing how well aligned Malik is, and the braced front leg. Hayden compares him to Waqar Younis, Doull to Haris Rauf. Pace is pace, yaar.
The cameras quickly find Dale Steyn - the bowling coach for Sunrisers - watching on in the dugout. Malik has not yet finished his over, and already he's completely changed the entire conversation. In many ways, the game is already over, yet it feels more alive than ever through him.
Malik's story is well known. He didn't touch a cricket ball until he was 17. He was bowling on a cement wicket in the nets in Jammu and Kashmir when India's U-19 selectors saw him. Those balls led to him becoming the fourth player from Jammu and Kashmir to play in the IPL.
This is not an Indian cricket hotbed. Parvez Rasool is the first - and only - Indian international from J&K, having played two white-ball matches. In the IPL there's also been Mithun Manhas (born in the province but who built his career in Delhi before returning), Rasikh Salam, Abdul Samad and Manzoor Dar (was picked up by a franchise but never played a game).
J&K has had serious pace before too, in the shape of Abid Nabi in the mid-2000s. Though he took over a hundred Ranji Trophy wickets and had some success in the Indian Cricket League he never quite materialised fully.
This is different. This is real pace. If Nabi was the dream, Malik is the reality.
His second over starts with Harsha Bhogle mentioning that the slip is standing right on the edge of the 30-yard circle. The second ball is a wicket, short and at the body. Shahbaz Ahmed is beaten for pace. By the time he catches up to it, he can only feather it down the legside for Pooran to complete a great diving catch.
The following ball Wanindu Hasaranga is beaten, a fast delivery angled in at him, but moving away. This isn't an excellent T20 ball, it would be brilliant in any format. A few balls later he is playing across the ball trying to hit it to leg, and it ends up outside off.
It looks uncomfortable and no fun for anyone. There is a story from the beginning of Malik's career when he was at Sunrisers. Jonny Bairstow was facing him in the nets and had to ask for him to bowl slower. And when he arrived in the IPL it took only a few balls into his career when people started noticing him. This was clearly next level pace.
His third over begins with a chyron on the screen that asks a simple question: "Is Umran Malik the fastest bowler India has ever produced?"
Sunil Gavaskar suggests you can only know that about the modern era. But Indian bowlers have not been fast historically, even if in recent times that has changed, Jasprit Bumrah, Varun Aaron, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav have all been very fast. Or at least capable of rapid deliveries at times.
Malik is consistently fast, like Mark Wood. His slowest on-pace balls are not slow. And he doesn't bother with slower balls much at all. The consistent high pace is something else, because there is no let up. If you don't like it this fast, you have a problem. This isn't a one-off effort ball; it's just his stock delivery.
His speeds in this match come up on the screen. The slowest is 138.6kmph, which is still a quick delivery. But the average is 145kmph. To stay at 90 miles per hour consistently is hard for even the fastest bowlers (although in this case, the average is helped by his lack of a slower ball).
More numbers of his speeds in his IPL career so far come up
  • <120kmph: 1.4%
  • 120-129kmph 1.4%
  • 130-139kmph 6.4%
  • >140kmph 90.8%
In fact, he doesn't bowl slower balls. Only 2.8% of his deliveries are under 130kmph. Because he is so quick, some of his slower ones are in the low 130s. But he only bowls 6.4% of his deliveries at 130 to 139. At the very most he bowls a slower ball every ten deliveries, and in truth, it's probably far less than that. Those are not normal rates.
There is a DRS for caught behind that is overturned and Bhogle excitedly exclaims "Two slips in the 12th over, wow" as Malik finishes his third.
The fourth over has some pace in it. The first five balls are 151kmph, 148kmph, 151kmph, 141kmph and 147kmph. That is probably why 77% of the fan poll say Malik is India's fastest bowler ever.
His pace now has Pietersen asking whether he is so fast his line and length don't matter, as poor Josh Hazlewood backs away and plays a shot so tentative it apologises for the play-and-miss. The talk is now about Shaun Tait and Mitchell Johnson. Later it will be Shoaib Akhtar, although that is after his spell is finished. That is in Jansen's over, the man who set up the win. They're still buzzing about Malik.
Jansen took out Faf Du Plessis, Virat Kohli and Anuj Rawat in one over. T Natarajan was pretty good too, knocking out Harshal Patel and Hasraranga's stumps and taking Glenn Maxwell. Even J Sucith took two wickets. But the man with one wicket gets all the attention.
In the mid-match interview, Steyn is asked about Malik before Jansen. In the innings break, Pietersen is still talking about Malik unprompted, even as they show the other bowlers taking wickets. RCB are dismissed for 68, and the bowler with one victim is the story almost all the way through. You can put some of this down to the fact he is a young Indian quick. But a lot of it is just because he is young and that quick.
The real proof was in the way the commentators reacted to the two bouncers in that first over. The first one I described earlier. But the last one was just as important. It flashed by a missed hook shot, and it was his second delivery over the shoulder, meaning it was a no-ball, and RCB would get a free hit.
Usually, a mistake like that would get the commentators all upset with the bowler and the lack of discipline. Instead Hayden bellows: "Bring it on, bring it on," while Pietersen is just laughing. Shabaz slaps the free hit over cover for a boundary, meaning the extra bouncer cost Sunrisers 7.3% of RCB's total.
No one cares. Because Umran Malik is fast.

Jarrod Kimber is a writer for ESPNcricinfo. @ajarrodkimber