Craft, much more than a trick
Let’s face it, Test hat-tricks are not a measure of greatness. Statistics show that of the 39 bowlers who have achieved the feat before Jasprit Bumrah in the 142 years of Test cricket, only 20 have taken 100 or more wickets.
Some of the best bowlers in the history of cricket have taken three off three. Wes Hall, Shane Warne, Wasim Akram, Glenn McGrath, or George Lohmann from the early days of the game, are among the 40 to have done the trick.
Equally, none among Dennis Lillee, Sydney Barnes, Malcolm Marshall, Michael Holding, Anil Kumble or Muttiah Muralitharan — the man with the most wickets in Tests and ODIs — managed it.
Irfan Pathan, the only other Indian pacer to have taken a hat-trick, didn’t quite live up to his promise, ending his career with exactly 100 wickets from 29 Tests. And there have been some like Fred Spofforth whose careers can’t be weighed by statistics.
Bumrah has just played 12 Tests, but he has shown he is special — among the most lethal bowlers to have turned out for India. Admittedly, the West Indies batting line-up is weak, but those three balls that Bumrah bowled to dismiss Bravo, Brooks and Chase could have scalped the best batsmen from any era.
“Ah mate, I just shuffle up and go whang,” Jeff Thomson once described his own unconventional action thus.
Bumrah, like the fearsome Australian speedster, has defied the coaching manual — he shuffles for most of his eight or nine strides to the crease, his left arm outstretched in a fist, his right arm slung low which then thrusts away from his body in the final motion.
And like the Windies batsmen found out, both in Antigua and Kingston, he can swing it both ways.
“I used to bowl the in-swinger earlier, but the more Test matches I’ve played, I’ve gotten more confident to bowl the out-swinger, especially since England,” Bumrah said after the Antigua Test.
Fast bowlers, they say, hunt in pairs. Bedser and Statham; Larwood and Voce; Lindwall and Miller; Lillee and Thomson; Waqar Younis and Akram.
Bumrah has Ishant and Shami for company, but what if he had Jofra Archer bowling in tandem with him? For a moment imagine the two of them turning out for the same side, much like Jack Gregory and Ted McDonald almost a hundred years ago when Australian captain Warwick Armstrong first understood the gift of pace in the Ashes series of 1920-21. It was said the English batsman were in panic as Gregory, much like Bumrah, could swing the ball either way, and McDonald — whom Neville Cardus described as the “Lucifer of his Craft” — could get vicious movement off the wicket, like Archer does so effectively.
Neither Gregory nor McDonald got hat-tricks nor did they get to 100 Test wickets. McDonald in fact played all of 11 Tests — one less than Bumrah — in his lifetime before dying in a car crash.
But they made fast bowling exciting to watch. Much like Bumrah and Archer are again doing at a time when the craft looked to be on the wane and the game dominated by batsmen.