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How do India replace the irreplaceable Jasprit Bumrah?

The team wins more when Bumrah plays, and other bowlers get better with him in the attack. India have a big problem to solve at the T20 World Cup

Jasprit Bumrah makes a world of a difference to India's bowling attack  •  AFP/Getty Images

Jasprit Bumrah makes a world of a difference to India's bowling attack  •  AFP/Getty Images

When it lands exactly where you want it to, a yorker is as good as it gets. It's hard to hit no matter what the conditions are like. Tuesday night's T20I in Indore was the perfect illustration of this. The match was played on the flattest of pitches and the tiniest of outfields, and South Africa ran away to 227 for 3, but they still only scored at 7.33 per over, according to ESPNcricinfo's data, when India's fast bowlers executed their yorkers.
The yorker, however, comes with a punishingly small margin for error. When India's fast bowlers erred in length and sent down full-tosses, they went at an economy rate of 13.84.
It was another reminder of how much India were missing Jasprit Bumrah, and how much they will miss him when the T20 World Cup begins in Australia later this month.
Among the many things that make Bumrah's yorker one of the best in the game, the most remarkable, perhaps, is how much more margin for error he has compared to other fast bowlers. In T20s since the start of 2021, Bumrah has an economy rate of only 7.94 even while bowling full-tosses. Among fast bowlers who have bowled at least 30 full-tosses in this period, no one has a remotely comparable record, and only two others - Anrich Nortje and Dwayne Bravo - have gone at less than 10 an over.
It's hard to explain why batters find Bumrah's full-toss hard to hit. It could have something to do with his unusual release point, which is well out in front of his body. Batters have precious little reaction time against Bumrah anyway, given the pace he bowls at; with the ball having to travel a shorter distance down the pitch than it does for most other bowlers, they lose another fraction of a second.
Bumrah's value to India, of course, extends far beyond bowling yorkers or bowling at the death. He's a genuine all-conditions, all-phase bowler in T20 cricket. In T20Is since the start of 2020, he has the best economy rate of all of India's fast bowlers in every phase.
Bumrah's all-phase mastery gives India a great deal of flexibility. When Bumrah plays, India can split his four overs in a way that allows the other members of their attack to bowl in their best phases. If Bumrah plays alongside Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Deepak Chahar, for instance, he could bowl all his overs after the powerplay, allowing the two swing bowlers to do the bulk of their work with the new ball. If Bumrah is part of an attack that includes Bhuvneshwar, Hardik Pandya and Harshal Patel, he could bowl two overs in the powerplay alongside Bhuvneshwar, and come back to bowl his other two at the death, leaving Hardik and Harshal free to bowl mostly through the middle period.
It's no wonder, then, that every India bowler has benefited from Bumrah's presence. The bowlers on the chart below have all played at least 10 T20Is alongside Bumrah, and at least 10 without him since Bumrah's debut in January 2016.
Among the bowlers in this group, only one - Hardik - has had a better average when Bumrah hasn't been part of India's attack. When Bumrah is in the side, other bowlers are more economical and likelier to take wickets.
You can see why this happens. Batters often look to play Bumrah out safely, and as a result have to go harder at the other bowlers, often losing their wicket in the process. And whatever impact this extra aggression has on the bowlers' economy rates, it is offset by the fact that they are usually bowling in the phases they are best suited to.
Playing without Bumrah isn't new to India. Thanks to injuries and workload management, he's only played 60 out of 128 T20Is since his debut. And since the start of 2020, he's been absent even more frequently, playing just 18 of India's 59 T20Is.
When Bumrah has played, though, he's made a significant impact to India's fortunes. Since the start of 2020, India have won 27 games and lost 13 when Bumrah hasn't been available. With Bumrah in their side, they have won 13 and lost just two games. And those 13 wins don't include the back-to-back tied games in New Zealand that Bumrah helped turn into wins by bowling the Super Over.
Who will India turn to if they get into a Super Over situation at this T20 World Cup? It's a tricky question, especially because bowling at the death - the closest regulation-time scenario to bowling a Super Over - has been India's biggest issue in the weeks leading up to the tournament.
If there's a situation that India seem to struggle with in Bumrah's absence, it's the end overs when they're defending totals. In the span of two weeks in September, they lost three such games to Pakistan. Sri Lanka and Australia, who needed 43, 42 and 55 runs, respectively, when the last four overs began.
Bumrah's absence leaves India especially bereft in such situations. In all the T20Is Bumrah has featured in since his debut, there has only been one instance of an India bowler conceding 20 or more runs in the death overs while defending a target - Venkatesh Iyer conceded 21 in the 18th over against Sri Lanka when India had all but wrapped up the win already. In games without Bumrah, there have been six such overs in 2022 alone.
A number of factors have contributed to this sudden spate of expensive death overs while defending targets, and Bumrah's absence is only one of them. But it is a significant factor. And not having their best bowler at the T20 World Cup will be particularly galling for India at a time when they have transformed their batting approach and are scoring big totals far more frequently than they used to. Without Bumrah, their need for big scores is more urgent than ever.
It's something India will consider as they debate the identity of Bumrah's replacement. There's no like-for-like replacement anywhere in the world, leave alone India. The two fast bowlers among the reserves in India's T20 World Cup squad, Mohammed Shami and Deepak Chahar, offer two very different options.
Do India try to address their death-bowling issues by bringing in Shami, who doesn't have a great record in that phase but has the pace and skill to potentially do a job across phases in Australian conditions? Or do they decide to live with their death-bowling issues, and try and make up for it in other ways? Chahar is a swing bowler whose best phase is the powerplay, but he can hit sixes down the order and extend the batting depth to allow India's top order to attack with even more freedom.
Two possible solutions, both far from perfect. But that's the best you can hope for when you try to replace the perfect bowler.

Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo