IPL: Umran Malik is the new fast-bowling star in Indian cricket

Umran Malik of the Sunrisers Hyderabad during match 40 of the TATA Indian Premier League 2022 (IPL season 15) between the Gujarat Titans and the Sunrisers Hyderabad held at the Wankhede stadium in Mumbai on the 27th April 2022Image source, BCCI/IPL
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Umran Malik is India's fastest bowler

Bowling consistently at speeds above 90mph in the ongoing Indian Premier League (IPL), Umran Malik has become India's newest fast bowling sensation. Sports journalist Saurabh Somani profiles the cricketer from Indian-administered Kashmir.

Imagine yourself as an accomplished batter, playing in the top order of a franchise in the IPL, the world's most high-profile cricket league.

You've got the shots, the reflexes and the skill to deal with the best bowlers. You face up to a 22-year-old rookie who hasn't even played a full season of IPL yet, and has an economy rate - the average number of runs a bowler concedes per over - north of eight per over.

But the rookie has got pace, you can use that to send the ball flying. And then, it's all a bit of a blur. You were ready, the shot had been conceived. But in that fraction before conception became execution, the ball has burst through the stumps.

Umran Malik, who plays for Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH), has done this to some of the best.

Last week he took the IPL 2022's best bowling figures with five wickets for 25 runs against the table-topping Gujarat Titans. Malik shattered stumps with yorkers at high pace, discomfiting batters with short balls that they could barely react to, and pounding a length that kept them on their toes.

Image source, BCCI/IPL
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Malik took IPL 2022's best bowling figures with 5 for 25 against the table-topping Gujarat Titans

In the game that followed, Malik bowled a 95mph (154kph) scorcher, the fastest ball in IPL 2022 so far.

If he travelled at that speed, he would take only 10 hours to go from Gujjar Nagar, his hometown in Jammu in Indian-administered Kashmir, to the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai. Cricketing journeys, though, take a lot longer to reach their destination than cricket balls - especially those delivered by Malik.

Malik's father earned a modest living as a fruit seller, but the young bowler's pursuit of his cricketing passion was unfettered. A star in local tennis-ball tournaments due to his pace, he first played with a leather ball when he was 17.

The pace that marked him out then would aid him as he climbed the rungs. Veteran Jammu and Kashmir bowler Ram Dayal mentored him, as did former India pacer Irfan Pathan. Abdul Samad, who plays for SRH and a close friend, recommended Malik be taken on as a net bowler during last year's IPL.

In the nets, Malik hurried and harried batters of the calibre of David Warner, Jonny Bairstow and Kane Williamson. When T Natarajan was out of IPL 2021 with an injury, Malik was drafted in as a replacement.

Malik's career so far does look dreamy. He has Dale Steyn - one of the greatest fast bowlers ever to play the game - gushing "Umran Malik" when asked who his inspiration was.

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And Ian Bishop, himself a great fast bowler and now among the best commentators, calling him the "real deal" and putting a bunch of fire emojis to add heft.

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But while the fairy tale is tempting, there are pitfalls too.

There is a higher risk of injuries for one, because the contortions and explosiveness a fast bowler has to go through. Every fast bowler has dealt with body breakdowns and stress fractures. And as Daniel Vettori said, "I am reflecting on my conversation with Shane Bond and the fact that he thought the more you bowled, the slower you got."

Bond, the fearsome New Zealand fast bowler, is an example of a great bowler whose career was blighted by injuries. So the view that Malik should be given a season or two more of domestic cricket, whose rigours serve to toughen up the body as well as the mind, is understandable.

There have been teams who had express bowlers, and when they are on song, it changes the game. India has undergone a pace revolution of sorts, with the likes of Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami and Mohammed Siraj at the forefront. But while they are all genuinely quick, that thunderbolt blitz is something that only Malik has right now.

Image source, BCCI/IPL
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Malik began bowling with a leather ball when he was 17

Should Malik be on the plane with the Indian T20 World Cup squad to Australia in October?

Australian cricketer Chris Lynn thinks so.

"He's going to take the world by storm if he does get a chance at the international level," Lynn told ESPNCricinfo.

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