NEW DELHI: It was business as usual for coach Randhir Singh Manhas during a winter day in 2017 when a 17-year-old boy walked up to him during a net session at the Maulana Azad Stadium in Jammu’s Nawabad Area.
“Sir, kya aap mujhe ball daalne dengey? (Could you allow me to bowl),” Manhas remembered the short and stout boy’s request while senior state team batter Jatin Wadhawan was having a knock at the nets.
“What’s your name?”
“Umran Malik,” replied the boy, who had dropped in at the net session without bowling spikes.
The son of a fruit vendor rattled Gujarat’s big guns including skipper Hardik Pandya, Wriddhiman Saha and David Miller to earn rich praise from cricketing greats. Former Test captain Sunil Gavaskar had already predicted Umran Malik would play for India and, after the express bowler’s five-wicket
Manhas obliged but till date, he has failed to figure out whether it was his gut feel or just wanting to be indulgent with a young boy, that made him agree to the request. He had a bowler short at the nets, though.
Whatever it was, Manhas’ role in giving a precocious talent wings to fly is beyond doubt.
The seeds of the express pace deliveries that Umran is hurling at the best of batters under intense pressure on a platform like the IPL, were sown that very day at the MA Stadium.
It was the birth of Umran Malik, the fastest bowler in the history of Indian cricket, who has made heads turn with 15 wickets in just eight games in this edition of the T20 league.
Fast bowling has always been a very exciting thing to watch on a cricket field. A genuine fast bowler on his run-up is a sight to behold and the sight of the batter’s furniture being disturbed after being beaten by sheer pace always gives an adrenaline rush to those watching.
“On that day, he was very quick for a 17-year-old as Jatin, who was a first-class player, was hurried by him.
“In my mind, I knew that the kid was special and my views were seconded by our senior team pacer Ram Dayal, who had then just reached the ground and saw him bowl. Ram told me that this boy had a bright future,” Manhas, the coach of the Jammu District Cricket Council said.
Umran is not a product of the system but despite the system, and his rise can be attributed to that.
Meet India’s fastest bowler, Umran Malik
He didn’t receive any structured coaching till the age of 17, never played with a leather ball, and all he did was to play in the ‘Mohalla’ tennis ball tourneys, from which any teenager could earn anything between Rs 500 to Rs 3000 per match depending on the reputation.
Hailing from a middle-class family in Jammu’s Gujjar Nagar, his father, who runs his own fruit shop in the local market, initially wanted him to focus on studies, but later, along with his wife, encouraged him to take up professional cricket.
Describing Sunrisers Hyderabad fast bowler Umran Malik as a “gem”, New Zealand bowling great Daniel Vettori says the youngster’s raw pace generates anxiety among batters and brings an “X-factor” to the game.
Having impressed the coach, Umran was asked to enroll in the academy but Manhas recollected that in the initial days in 2017-18, he was never a regular.
“He would come one day and then remain absent for the next few days. We had to tell him that he needs to be disciplined about training as he cannot let the opportunities go abegging.
“I told him, ‘listen Umran, the day you play at the national level, you won’t have to look back. So be serious’. I sent him for -19 trials, where he borrowed bowling spikes and bowled. He was picked for Cooch Behar Trophy but got only one match, and that too, a rain-truncated one against Odisha.
“But those who watched him told me that the keeper was standing a good 35 yards behind the stumps, something that doesn’t happen a lot at U-19 level,” said the coach, who is a storehouse of anecdotes.
One of his favourite stories is the one where the Assam Ranji team, coached by former keeper Ajay Ratra, had come to Jammu for an away game.
“Umran was at the stadium that day and the Assam team needed net bowlers for practice. Ajay asked Umran if he would like to bowl at the nets. Umran agreed immediately but after 15 minutes, the Assam coach asked Umran to stop. Reason? His men had a match to play and didn’t want them to get hurt,” Manhas laughed.
In fact, Ratra was surprised that Umran wasn’t playing Ranji Trophy back then.
“Umran has made me popular in the market and in fact in Jammu overall. Everyone greets me saying ‘adaab’ in the market. I am really proud of my son,” Umran’s Abdul Rashid told TimesofIndia.com from Jammu. India’s new speed gun Umran consistently bowls at 145- 150kph plus and is India’s fastest
The sandy banks of River Tawi and strongly built lower body
One of the greatest pacers of all time, the legendary Andy Roberts, in various interviews have laid out one basic ground rule about a fast bowler’s physique.
“You bowl fast not just because you have a strong upper body but because you have strong legs that help in building the rhythm,” Roberts had once said.
In the case of Umran, one would be surprised to know that before he entered the Sunrisers Hyderabad fold, he had never been a part of any systematic gym sessions but still had a rock like lower body.
“His house is near river Tawi and the adjoining area of the river bank is primarily sandy. Umran grew up running on sandy fields and playing cricket all his formative years. —PTI