Mali & Boom, a match made in bowling heaven

In a BCCI video, Bumrah says he was told by Malinga, “You have to be consistent with the yorkers. One or two yorkers anyone can deliver. Execution is important… you have the yorkers but use it properly.” The smoothness of that execution meant drilling it into muscle memory and Malinga’s practice had involved the familiar boots placed on the blockhole. “I said, ‘Look, these are things I do with my bowling, these things have been successful for me, if you want, you can train with me.'”

Did Bumrah ever. He soaked up whatever Malinga had to offer. If it meant a yorkers-only nets, he was happy to do it. Until his body was used to the action and had understood the load the constant repetition required and what it would feel like and how it could be adapted to.

There were discussions about analysing one’s own bowling and giving feedback when required by coaches. “I didn’t try to teach him too much that was new. I just told him what I know and tried to light a fire in him for the things he already enjoyed doing.”

One of Malinga’s strengths as an end-overs specialist is to read batsmen, their mind, their form, their plans and then ensure you had the bowling skills to challenge them. “This is what he taught me,” says Bumrah in the video, “you have to adjust according to each and every batsman, you have to use your yorkers properly, you have to be different with different batsmen, sometimes you have to bowl the wide yorkers, sometimes you have to swing the yorkers… This is what I have learnt.”

Malinga was to tell Bumrah, “No matter how much we talk, if you don’t have the skill you need at the particular moment, you can’t do anything…” Whatever is to be used in the match, he said, has to be learnt in training to a degree of instinctive repetition, “Develop your bowling, your repertoire… then when you play, you will realise which situation demands which ball, when that situation comes, you will already have it in your arsenal. And you will know how to bowl that ball.”

The fruits of that lesson in physical form are evident in the accuracy of Bumrah’s death-overs execution and, on Thursday night, in his 19th-over chokehold against AB DeVilliers and Colin de Grandhomme. Malinga’s instructions on how to handle pressure appear to have been drilled into Bumrah’s soul. Malinga’s methods are simple, “Don’t panic if there’s pressure. Take half a second. Take a deep breath. Think only about what you have to do.”

In an October 2017 BCCI video, Bumrah is heard saying, “The main thing about death overs is to have clarity. Whichever ball you want to execute, have the field according to that… Go ahead and try to execute. Think simple and get the confidence to execute in the death.”

Who knows what Bumrah was saying to Malinga at the Chinnaswamy on Thursday night? Maybe repeating the older player’s words back to him. Maybe it was merely a gee-up kind of chatter. This wasn’t a passing of the torch or anything of the sort – hell, there was a match on the line. Like there are always going to be over next six weeks in which Mali may have to walk over to chat to Boom. It’s what they do.

Even after the IPL, the two men will remain in touch. Over the years, Bumrah has texted and called Malinga for tips and insight. Malinga is delighted at Bumrah’s rise, “I’m really happy when I watch him play…. He’s learned the game beautifully, he doesn’t separate Test and one-day cricket, he uses his skills in all of them.” It was his advice to Bumrah, “don’t think about the format – only about how you are going to get that wicket.”

Malinga’s English messages on phone are famous among his Indian friends for being monosyllabic. After many days, all that could pop up is a cryptic, “how?” (It’s the English translation of the Sinhala shorthand kohomada, how are you?) Bumrah is now well-versed in the texting code. “There is a language difference between us but we communicate, however, wherever…”

When trying to understand the friendship between these two unique players, between Mali of Rathgama and Boom of Ahmedabad, an equally short and sweet question and answer serves nicely.
“How?”
“Cricket – what else?”

(With inputs from Andrew Fidel Fernando)