When the fourth Test ended at the Kennington Oval in London last September with India leading 2-1 going into the fifth and final Test, not many would have imagined a lot of changes in both the teams then.
That the fifth Test would be played nine months later, starting today at Edgbaston in Birmingham. That the teams would have new head coaches – Rahul Dravid for India and Brendon McCullum for England. That the teams would have new Test captains – Jasprit Bumrah for India and Ben Stokes for England.
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For India, there is no Rohit Sharma, India’s new all-format Test captain but down with Covid since reaching England. There is no KL Rahul. There is no Ajinkya Rahane.
In Bumrah, the 28-year-old right-arm fast bowler who has spearheaded the Indian bowling attack in the last few years, the team has a new Test captain, the 36th in the annals of Indian Test cricket. Bumrah is also the first specialist bowler in a long time to lead India in the longest format if you take into account the likes of Ghulam Ahmed, Bishan Singh Bedi, S Venkataraghavan and Anil Kumble who have been at the helm in the past.
Though Bumrah is a stop-gap arrangement, and the full-time all-format captain Rohit returns to the helm once he is fit, and it would be a while since India again play a Test after this unfinished Test series ends on July 5 if not earlier, he still has got plenty of expectations to fulfil.
First and foremost, Bumrah would be creating history of winning a Test series in England if he leads the team to a win or even a draw at Edgbaston, emulating Ajit Wadekar (1971), Kapil Dev (1986) and Rahul Dravid (2007) as the captains to have won Test series in The Old Blighty. Of course, a majority of the credit should go to Virat Kohli, who was at the helm when India played brilliantly in the four Tests last year, winning both the Tests at the London venues – Lord’s and The Oval – while drawing at Trent Bridge and going down at Headingley in Leeds.
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Whether Bumrah is the right candidate for Test captaincy under the present circumstances – with Rohit down with Covid and KL Rahul, the designated vice-captain not available due to groin injury and subsequently underwent a hernia surgery recently – is debatable. Or should Kohli have been asked to do a Steve Smith (leading Australia in Adelaide Test last year end after new Test captain Pat Cummins was ruled out after he came in close contact with a Covid positive person) and be leading India for one last time so as to maintain continuity from the last series in England is another point for discussion.
But Bumrah, though without prior captaincy experience, should be easing into the role and not have any difficulties. Firstly, he has been a senior cricketer, leading the Indian bowling and has 123 Test wickets from 29 matches since his debut in South Africa in January 2018. He has been mentoring the other Indian bowlers and has been playing the role that Zaheer Khan used to do in his later years for Team India.
Bumrah is a thinking bowler who has often delivered when the team needed the most. He has taken 18 wickets in the four Tests in England last year and a total of 32 wickets in seven Tests there on two tours. He has played all but four of his Tests overseas and is familiar with the conditions that England have to offer.
His experience of being a senior bowler and one who has played under several captains in the past will certainly hold him in good stead. Moreover, Bumrah is someone the others in the team, especially the bowlers, look up to. He also has Kohli to fall back upon for advice.
The understanding and performances of the current Indian team are such that Bumrah would not be burdened by the pressures of captaincy. It is merely a privileged post that Bumrah would walk out in the Team India blazer for the toss, take on-field decisions and implement whatever has been planned in the dressing room.
One who gives importance to execution of skills on the field and working hard on his bowling, Bumrah will also have to think about 10 other cricketers, which could be something new for him, as former India all-rounder Madan Lal said.
Lal told news18.com: “The mindset of a fast bowler being a Test captain will always be to take wickets. The only thing is he has to manage the other 10 players on the field. He has to act according to the situation, whom to bowl, when to bowl and all that. Taking decisions according to the situation of the game is very important. He might be more positive in his approach, always thinking about winning the Test.”
There have been pure fast bowlers who have been captains, and pure bowlers who have led India in the past.
Former India captain and dashing opener, K Srikkanth, told this website that Bumrah is “a very stable-headed person, very sensible and very intelligent. I wish him all the best and am sure he will do a brilliant job.”
Srikkanth did not attach too much importance to a fast bowler leading the country in Tests. “It doesn’t matter as long as he knows what he is doing. There have been so many fast bowlers in the past who have led their respective countries in Tests. There was Bob Willis leading England, Courtney Walsh leading the West Indies. I am sure Bumrah will do a good job as Test captain.”
Former England captain, Mike Brearley, in his book ‘The Art of Captaincy’, had his reservations on bowlers, especially fast bowlers, being Test captains. He wrote in the book, first published in 1985: “… it takes an exceptional character to know when to bowl, to keep bowling with all his energy screwed up into a ball of aggression, and to be sensitive to the needs of the team, both tactically and psychologically. Willis in particular has always shut himself up into a cocoon of concentration and fury for his bowling. Our headhunters should recommend a fast bowler only as a last resort; unless, perhaps, they have a man of Mike Procter’s qualities available.”
Lal downplayed the thought of Bumrah either over-bowling himself or under-bowling himself as captain. “There should be no tendency to under-bowl or over-bowl. Not these days when you have three-four bowlers to share the load, each bowling five-six overs in a spell, and a good spell could mean an additional two or three overs. It depends on the game situation,” Lal said.
Former India left-arm spinner and selector, Venkatapathi Raju, felt that Bumrah’s status as a senior bowler for quite some time would keep him in good stead. “Bumrah is a very thinking bowler, leading the country’s bowling attack. Bumrah has been a part of the think-tank when it comes to bowling. He has been vice-captain before. After a long time, we have a fast bowler getting the opportunity of leading the country. It is a change for the better for India’s fast bowlers,” Raju told News18.
Raju did have concerns of a fast bowler leading in that he might tend to over-bowl himself. “That is the only concern. You have to plan yourself. What Kapil Dev did as captain was that he used to take the responsibility upon himself, being a senior bowler, leading the attack and managing his team. This is a good opportunity for Bumrah. He has been a part of the Indian team for a long time, part of a lot of the plans in the dressing room. Bumrah is a strike bowler and am sure he will lead from the front. A positive and a thinking bowler, am sure Bumrah will take his decisions effectively and successfully,” he said.
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