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Umran Malik: From a ‘Gully Boy’ to making 150kph the new normal in IPL

“No one asks me for extra chillies and coriander leaves. They don’t negotiate prices.” The perks of being the father of the fastest Indian pacer are small but sweet for Abdul Rashid, a fruit seller in Jammu. It’s his son Umran Malik who has been serving up extra chillies in prime time at IPL.

Matthew Wade who had swatted away Shaheen Afridi for two stunning sixes to win the T20 world cup for Australia was made to look like a bank clerk sent to the war. An apprehension-tinged expectation of a bouncer seemingly came first for he had just seen Hardik Pandya roughed up by a bouncer from Umran Malik. All thoughts after that would have been afterthoughts for Wade for Malik’s thunderbolt rushed at him, rushed him, and rammed his pads in a blink. Pandya himself had barely thought about the pull shot as a response but the bouncer had ricocheted off his helmet by then. Pace scrambles brains, especially when it’s over 150kph variety like Malik unleashes.

That night Malik also won the pace battle against New Zealand’s Lockie Ferguson, hurling the top five quickest deliveries in the game, the fastest being 153.3 kph; the next four were — 151.2, 150.1, 149.9, 149.3. He has been quick for a while; radar has been consistently improving.

At the IPL 2021, Malik was a nets bowler for the Sunrisers Hyderabad and replaced Natarajan, who was out due to Covid-19. Without the claustrophobia of the nettings, but with the nerves of showtime arc lights showering on him, he produced the second-fastest ball of the tournament, a 152.95 kph brute against Royal Challengers Bangalore.

At the post-match presentation, Virat Kohli led the raves. “Whenever you see talent like this, you are going to have your eyes on them and make sure you maximise their potential.” Malik was soon included in the Indian contingent as a net bowler for the T20 World Cup in Dubai, and was also retained by the Sunrisers Hyderabad ahead of this IPL.

‘Desh ka beta’

Malik’s father Abdul Rashid continues to sell his fruits at Shaheedi Chowk in Jammu’s Gujjar Nagar. He is “From Abdul Rashid’s shop, it has become ‘Umran ke Papa ki dukaan.’ (Umran’s father’s shop),” says Abdul with a big laugh. “With this shop, I have managed to bring food to my family’s plates. Yes my son has become a household name across the country but that doesn’t mean that I will stop working.”Umran MalikUmran Malik with his coach. (Express Photo)

Rashid feels Umran is no longer only his son since he has become the darling of the entire nation.

“He is now a son of India. Agar Allah ne chaha toh Hindustan ka naam raushan karega (With the grace of god, he will make India proud in the future,” says Rashid, who is offering Namaz ten times (five for his son) in a day during this Ramadan month.

Rapid journey

Malik’s coach, Randhir Singh Manhas, who spotted him for the first time, feels his ward can bowl much faster.

“For someone who started bowling with the leather ball just five years ago, cranking up 150 kph itself is a big achievement. He can certainly bowl quicker in the future, ” Manhas, who works as a coach at Maulana Azad Cricket Stadium in Jammu, tells this newspaper.

Umran’s cricketing journey has been precisely like his bowling — fast. He didn’t have any idea of professional cricket till as late as 2017. One day, along with his best friend Abdul Samad, he went to Randhir Manhaas at the Maulana Azad Cricket Stadium in Jammu. Abdul requested his coach to have a look at his friend, who had already made a name for himself in the Jammu tennis ball circuit. Manhas asked him to bowl and was taken back by his pace. An impressed Manhas asked him to come to the practice everyday.

He started training with the leather ball and didn’t lose a yard of pace, but it was Malik’s discipline that didn’t sit well with the coach Manhas. It turned abruptly when a glimpse of an improbable future was given.

“He used to come for a week, then, he will skip the training for the next three-four days. You can’t blame him, as even he didn’t know about his potential. One day I told him ‘Umran, you can play for India.’ For 10-15 seconds, he looked at me and started laughing. He replied, ‘Sir, are you serious.’ I gave him a firm look and didn’t say a word. He never missed a training session from then onwards,” recalls Manhas.

Umran went for the under-19 trials in Jammu on borrowed spike-shoes and was picked for the J&K team. But he got only one match in the Vinoo Mankad Trophy, and the game was washed out. Following year, Malik was rejected at the U-23 trials.

Fortunes turned just as it did in the IPL. At the nets. During the 2019-20 Ranji Trophy season, Jammu & Kashmir was playing against Assam at the Gandhi Memorial Science College Ground, Jammu. Assam’s coach Ajay Ratra, former India wicketkeeper, asked for some net bowlers. Stepped up Umran Malik.

He bowled only four balls before Ratra stopped him from bowling. Ratra was impressed and was also scared that he might end up injuring one of his top-order batters.

Ratra, who played 6 Tests and 12 ODIs for India, was surprised when he found that Umran Malik is not playing for Jammu and Kashmir. Ratra pleaded Malik’s case to one of the officials of Jammu and Kashmir Cricket Association (JKCA).

“Ajay Ratra was impressed with Umran’s pace, and he later even had a word with J&K captain and coaching staff,” says Manhas, who was there at the nets.

Ratra recalls that episode, ” I was a bit surprised that he was not part of the J&K team. The kind of bounce he was generating was truly amazing.” Manhas feels Umran is lucky to get so much help from so many different peoples in his life, be it his family, fellow cricketers or coaches.

“Many people have helped him, his family, who supported his passion for the game. Abdul Samad, who helped him bag the net bowler contract with the SRH, Ajay Ratra, who pleaded his case, Irfan Pathan, who fast-tracked him into the J&K senior team,” says Manhas.

Umran has got only four wickets in the three matches so far, he has leaked runs, but most of the boundaries conceded are either off outside or the top edges. He has played only three first-class games, a solitary List A and a handful of T20s (12 games), but he certainly has the raw pace. A couple of India A tours, a full domestic season will only enhance his skills.

“He is working with Dale Steyn now at the SRH. Who better than the great Steyn to learn from,” says Manhas. Future is calling, Malik is all ears.

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