With Rohit Sharma still testing positive for Covid, it was fair to assume, at that point on Wednesday, that Bumrah was part of the contingency plan to be stand-in captain for the Test. Twenty-four hours later, Bumrah walked into his first media conference as India’s Test captain, the first fast bowler to do so since Kapil Dev captained his last Test in 1987 – six years before Bumrah was born.
Bumrah looked unfazed, a clear sense that he was ready for one of the toughest jobs in international cricket. Dressed in the team’s casual wear – dark blue shorts, T-shirt, down jacket unzipped – Bumrah was at ease responding to queries, bearded face gleaming with a smile. He might have been surprised to hear a few travelling journalists welcoming him with claps.
Some time later, Bumrah revealed what Dhoni had told him after his debut: “You could’ve won us this series”, if only he had arrived early.
It was an early marker from Bumrah, signalling a rare bowling talent and intelligence. As he added overs and years under his belt Bumrah grew more vocal in sharing his ideas with the bowling group and coaches. He was given the freedom to do so and grew quickly into the attack leader.
A major part of Bumrah’s growth has been driven by his hunger to be involved in the game at all times. It did not matter to him that he would be fielding in the deep, but if he had an idea, he would share it. As captain, though, he now calls the shots. “Sometimes when you are standing at fine leg you can go away from the game,” he said. “This time I have gotten an opportunity to be in the game all the time, be active and make calls. That time you are obviously involved a lot more and you can really be involved and make a lot of plays.”
As he walked in for the press conference Bumrah glanced at the framed picture of England captain Ben Stokes celebrating, mid-pitch at Edgbaston, an Indian wicket from the 2018 Test series. Did he know that he has now become only the second player since 2010 – after Stokes – to have captained their team in a Test without any prior experience as captain in professional cricket?
Bumrah has never been one for convention. On Thursday he explained why he was ready to lead India. “You always want responsibility, right? You play cricket for that responsibility. When there is pressure the taste of success feels good. That is why I am always up for responsibility. I love to be in the tough challenges, and this is no different. Every time a new challenge comes, you are always excited and you want to test yourself in deep water. This is no different.”
Not that he has not thought about captaincy. Bumrah pointed out he’s had conversations on captaincy with men like Dhoni. “Everybody improves and keeps on getting better as they do it. I have spoken to MS – he told me that he straight away captained the Indian team, he had never captained anywhere else. He is one of the most successful captains ever. I am just focusing how I can help the team, not focusing on what I have done before or what I want to do before or how things work or this is the way the cricketing convention works or this is how the rules have been set. I am focusing on how to help the team and I will try to contribute to the best of my ability.”
There is plenty to unpack there. One of Bumrah’s biggest strengths has been his self-belief. He understands his body and his bowling well, which has allowed him to not be deterred or distracted by the constant scrutiny of his bowling style. “I have always backed my self-belief,” Bumrah said. “Whatever the situation, I have played my cricket in the same manner. In every scenario, I have trusted my instinct, my basics, and my self-belief because of which I have come up in cricket. And that is what I will follow going forward.”
Though he is very much his own man, it doesn’t mean he will not listen to others. “I listen to advice from everyone, I try to learn from everyone, but eventually it is up to your instincts. Your method cannot be similar to others. So that is what I try to do: I learn from everyone, but eventually it is for your instincts, what you feel is the right decision for the team.”
It is the kind of thinking that has allowed Bumrah to conjure magic. Take the penultimate day of the Lord’s Test last summer and his slower ball to Ollie Robinson, which helped turn the tide against in that Test.
Growing up in Ahmedabad, bowling balls endlessly against the house walls which kept his mother anxious, Bumrah had only one dream: to become a fast bowler. Then to play for India. He has now gone one step further.
When he walks out for the toss on Friday, Bumrah will have attained what only a very small number of men have in India.
“Think, 36?” he replied when asked what number men’s Test captain he was for India. He’s right. He sounds like he’s ready too.
Nagraj Gollapudi is news editor at ESPNcricinfo