IPL: The curious case of Umran Malik, the Jammu & Kashmir speedball

The flavour of Indian cricket in 2022, the 24-year-old is now struggling to get his mojo back

Umran Malik in action (photo: BCCI/IPL)
Umran Malik in action (photo: BCCI/IPL)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

If Mayank Yadav was IPL 2024's flavour of the week for breaking the speed barrier time and again, there is another question gnawing at the minds of fans. What is happening with Umran Malik, the other 155 kmph beast, who held spectators in thrall in the 2021-22 season?

For starters, Malik, still only 24, is not quite off the radar as he has recently received a fast bowlers’ contract from the BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India). This will help him get a retainership, apart from offering all the benefits at the National Cricket Academy (NCA), while he is still very much a member of the Sunrisers Hyderabad squad. However, his place seems to be in the dugout these days, as he has not been able to inspire the earlier confidence among the team management, having got only one game so far.

A far cry this from the 2022 season which saw him at his peak, claiming 22 wickets at an average of 20.18 with one five-wicket haul, a feat which fast-tracked him into the international arena later that year. It was also the season he clocked 157 kmph (98.1 mph) on the speed gun, making the Jammu & Kashmir youngster officially India’s fastest bowler in IPL history, and possibly the fastest of all time.

TV pundits felt it would be a real deal to see him open India’s red ball attack in Tests with Jasprit Bumrah, just the way many want to see Mayank in the Test series in Australia later this year. Therein lies the catch: it’s easy to get carried away seeing a youngster clock 150 kmph-plus regularly, but there is an ocean of difference between bowling four overs a day and performing as a stock bowler for 18-20 overs a day.   

It's not as if Malik made no impact at all on international debut — despite a few lingering questions about whether he needed a few more weapons in his armoury. In his second T20I against Ireland, he held his nerve and defended eight off the final three balls. The Rahul Dravid-Rohit Sharma regime had just begun when Malik made his ODI debut against New Zealand in November, dismissing Devon Conway and Daryl Mitchell to end as the most successful bowler for the team.

While he claimed 13 wickets in 10 ODIs, his strike rate (28.1) was proving a of a bother. He picked up a wicket every 12.6 balls in the shortest format, but conceded over 10 runs an over in six innings.

What is even more worrying is that Malik’s domestic performance has begun to slip.

In the last two seasons of the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, he has taken only 14 wickets in 14 games at an economy rate of 8.18. He has played only one List A game in this period, while he averaged 41.60 in the Ranji Trophy in the last two editions and took part in only two matches this year after suffering a foot injury.

He also has played only three India A games, the last of which came in September 2022 against New Zealand A, and he was not picked for the England A series earlier this year.

Last year, when Malik’s appearance in the Sunrisers’ playing XI became infrequent, TV pundit Virender Sehwag made an extremely pertinent observation about him not hitting the right length. ‘’Umran Malik’s problem is that he keeps shuffling his length. He doesn’t have the experience yet. He might have worked a lot with Dale Steyn, he hasn’t got the idea of his length. Despite working with Steyn for so long and learning under him, he’s making the same mistakes that he did last year,’’ Sehwag said.  

In an interview with The Hindu, P. Krishnakumar, a former Ranji Trophy cricketer and currently J&K coach, revealed he had been supplying Malik with loads of videos to address the same problem. “What I did was, I sent him almost 100 videos — of (James) Anderson, of (Andrew) Flintoff and all the great bowlers. I forced him to think. You have to pitch it up there if you want to take wickets in international cricket. Almost every day, he was getting a video. So then, it changes the mindset,” he said.

One hopes Malik picks up the ropes fast to bounce back into reckoning again!

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