The speed gun doesn't lie—Umran Malik has indeed bowled a 156.9 kph screamer, the fastest in the IPL till date. Neither does the scoreboard—he has also leaked 52 runs in four overs. It's an unwritten rule: the faster you bowl, the quicker the ball reaches the boundary. No fast bowler is exempt from that reality. But it's also perhaps happening now more than often. Thicker bats, better protective gear, shorter boundaries and quicker outfields are the reality checks out-and-out fast bowlers like Malik have to keep in mind more than Shoaib Akhtar or Brett Lee had to.
Does that mean Malik must stop being himself? Not necessarily. "Adapt" and "learn" are keywords every cricketer must get used to at the earliest. As also the accolades and abuse of which there will always be a glut of in these days of social media. To be the next big thing of Indian cricket, especially as a fast bowler, is a phenomenal way to start. But that it can also be the loneliest place to be in, something Malik is probably realising slowly.
By clocking 144 kph with the first ball of his spell, Malik showed he meant business but the exhilaration of it was lost in the rank bad line that fetched Delhi Capitals (DC) five wides on Thursday. Third ball, at 146 kph, saw David Warner swivelling across the line and pulling it past square-leg for a boundary. Next ball, at 148 kph, was so full and wide that Warner had no problem using its pace to pierce cover. Malik cranked it up to 154 kph next delivery, prompting Warner to get behind it solidly but the follow-up ball was so short it was easily dispatched for a six. Conceding 21 from that over, Malik not only gave DC's innings momentum but also scuppered Kane Williamson's plans of giving him another over within the first half.
Back again in the 12th over, Malik conceded 11 before a much improved third over raised hope of decent returns. That wasn't to be. Having already got a good measure of the pitch and Sunrisers Hyderabad's bowling, DC's Rovman Powell was ready to swing hard. Malik just made it easier with his pace. Clocking 153 kph, Malik saw his first ball knock off the stands at long-off boundary. A dot and a four before the big one—a 156.9 kph ball, almost 0.7 kph quicker than Anrich Nortje's 156.22 kph delivery in 2020—was pitched wide but Powell got his front leg out of the way to muscle it between extra-cover and mid-off. Another 155 kph ball and Powell was at it again, bringing his bottom hand into use and hammering it through extra over for four.
This is the first time Malik has gone for over 50 runs in his brief but exciting IPL career. Good thing about it? Malik did not compromise on speed despite being belted. The slowest ball of his last over was clocked at 144.3 kph, the fastest being 156.9 kph. But that's possibly the only encouraging pro against a list of cons. Still far from consistently hitting the right line, Malik also probably doesn't know how to control his pace. Banging in short is easy. But to hone himself into a great fit for every format, Malik needs to learn that over and above mastering the slower ball, the yorker and the low full toss. Williamson believes this hiding will expedite Malik's learning process. "It's a fantastic learning opportunity," said the Sunrisers captain about Malik after the 21-run loss. "You're up against a couple of the best on pretty good surfaces where there's a lot of learning to be done."
Captain of the best Test team in the world, Williamson knows a thing or two about handling fast bowlers, be it the tearaway Neil Wagner who is now a Test specialist or the incredibly tall and talented Kyle Jamieson who has decided to give the IPL a miss. But Malik is Indian. To conform to long-established guidelines of success, he must bowl quick not just in the IPL but in every format. There will be stress fractures, painful surgeries and long rehabs. And every time that happens, Malik also has to remember the aberrations—Jimmy Anderson, Pat Cummins or, closer home, Ishant Sharma. Sunrisers bowling coach Dale Steyn too would have a few stories to share with him.
Once that India squad spot comes, Malik must also prepare to be on his own from that moment till the end of his career. The best doctors and BCCI's rotational policy will do their part but it will add up to nothing if Malik keeps bowling fast without being clever about it. Thursday's clobbering may just be the eye-opener Malik needs to be better at his game.