Umran Malik: Driven Towards Life In The Fast Lane

Cricket News By TODAYLIVESCORE.INFO - Umran Malik: Driven towards life in the fast lane. "I had the confidence that I can do well in the nets and that the next year I would play for SRH"

Umran Malik: Driven Towards Life In The Fast Lane"I had the confidence that I can do well in the nets and that the next year I would play for SRH"

Raman Thaploo, the J&K cricketer and one of the senior trainees at the academy where Umran Malik honed his skills, has a story to tell about India's latest fast-bowling sensation. It's from a time when opportunities were few and far between – in part because Umran was still struggling to make the transition to bowling with a leather ball.

“J&K's under-23 team was announced, and he wasn't a part of the team,” Thaploo recalls. “After J&K lost three matches continuously, Abdul Samad [a J&K and Sunrisers Hyderabad cricketer] talked with Sanjeeva Chaudhary, the coach of the side: ‘There is a very good bowler in the nets, Umran Malik, he bowls at around the pace of 140 kmph. Just see him and you will see the difference'. Chaudhary asked him to come to the nets the next day, and when he joined, he bowled very fast. After that he was selected for the Under-23 team.”

To give an idea of how fast Umran could bowl in the nets, Thaploo narrates an anecdote of how he rattled Assam's Ranji Trophy team as a net bowler. “He was bowling to the Assam team as a net bowler during a Ranji trophy match at Jammu. And the coach of Assam, Mr. Ajay Ratra, former Indian wicket-keeper, stopped him from bowling, because he was bowling fast at that time and also light was not good for play at that time. So Ajay Ratra stopped him & let other bowlers bowl at their batters.”

This raw pace has taken him far, and this week its value was expressed in the form of his retention by the Sunrisers Hyderabad for the coming IPL seasons. Its origin is the same as so many fast bowlers on the subcontinent.

“In our neighbourhood there is a ground where we used to play… it is called Tawi, where we play with a tennis ball,” Umran recalled to Cricbuzz. “Tennis ball games helped me… with the tennis ball, you have to bowl fast, I started bowling fast, fast and fast and that is how I became quick.”

During his formative years, Umran also had a support system, including his family and a few other mentors who provided the foundation path for his cricketing career to flourish. His brother Ateeb, in particular, played a key role in ingraining the passion for a the game.

“I was never made to feel that I was not having enough, I am from a normal family. When I was a kid, I used to ask, ‘I need a big bat, big bat'. When I got the big bat, and would go to Tawi, I used to tell my brother, ‘Play with my bat', and he used to play with my bat and used to hit sixes and I used to feel good. After a bit of time, I also started to play with him, and I started to feel good that I was playing with him, I used to respect him.”

Until the age of about 17-18, Umran's career was restricted to playing with a tennis ball and it was only in 2017 that he began to use a leather one. Initially, it turned out to be a deflating experience but his brother's words acted as a soothing balm. Randhir Singh, his academy coach, and former India all-rounder, Irfan Pathan, also acted as mentors.

“The first time I used the leather ball was in 2017, the first time I played a local match with the leather ball,” says Umran. “I gave away a lot of runs, but my brother said, ‘No problem, you don't need to worry, you bowl fast and you will play at a higher level one day. Such type of bowlers who bowl fast, will play at a higher level, you keep bowling fast.' Randhir sir used to talk about fitness. Pathan bhai helped me a lot, he corrected my jump, I thank him a lot. He did a lot of work on me, he was saying ‘do this, do that.'”

After years of hardships and struggles, things have moved quickly in Umran's life.

Ateeb also has a story to tell that reaffirms the fast bowler's burgeoning promise. “When Samad bhai came back from the IPL, he told Umran: ‘You're very fast. I have played international bowlers but you're faster than them.' His confidence was boosted at that time. He just worked hard after that. That was the first time he knew that he could play at a higher level.”

Eventually, after his fair share of trials and tribulations, Umran broke into the J&K senior side and played one match each in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy and Vijay Hazare Trophy during the 2020-21 season. Even though the fast bowler bagged a three-for in the Syed Musthaq Ali game, the Vijay Hazare Trophy match turned out to be a chastening experience as he finished with figures 1 for 98 from 10 overs.

The fast bowler recounted how he looked back at the failure as a stepping stone to success. “In the Syed Musthaq Ali game, I gave 24 runs and took three wickets. In the Vijay Hazare game, I gave away runs, the ground also was small, and edges were going for fours and sixes, but I didn't think much about it and said, ‘If I give away runs in one match, nothing has happened.' I backed myself and in the next match I played, I bowled well.”

By then, Umran was also a member of the SRH set-up as a net bowler. And once again, his good friend Samad was around to help him chart out a successful path. “From 2018, Samad and I started being close friends. I used to practice alongside him. I asked: ‘If I could become a net bowler, see if something like that can happen.' He sent my video to the franchise and then the call came.”

During SRH's net sessions, Umran got the opportunities to bowl at some well-established batters – from David Warner to Jonny Bairstow and Manish Pandey. Reputation didn't seem to matter to the young tearaway, as he didn't shy away from attempting bouncers. “They were saying, ‘Don't bowl that fast.' But I had come to bowl fast, so I would bowl fast,” Umran says with a smile. “One day, I bowled a bouncer at Manish and he told this to Warner. Then I beat Manish 4-5 times and he said, ‘Well bowled.' You get the confidence as you're beating the batters who play in the match.”

Net sessions were also like a training workshop for the bowler and gave him the chance to fine-tune his bowling by gaining valuable insights from some of the finest coaches and cricketers going around. Such was Umran's dedication to his craft that after delivering every single ball, he would end up asking the coaching set-up about where he was going wrong and how he could improve further. “SRH coaching staff has helped me a lot. After every ball, I used to ask the coaches: ‘Where I was going wrong?' Tom Moody sir, Murali sir, Laxman sir, Trevor Bayliss… they kept talking to me, I used to talk to everyone. Also big players like David Warner, Kane Williamson, Manish bhai… ‘In which area I am going wrong, in which area I'm bowling wrong?' And they used to talk to me.”

After years of hardships and struggles, things have moved quickly in Umran's life in the last few months. He earned his maiden IPL cap for SRH against Kolkata Knight Riders. He soon made heads turn by bowling in excess of 150 kph in that game and followed that up by bowling the quickest delivery of the 2021 IPL against Royal Challengers Bangalore. In his very next match, against Mumbai Indians, Ishan Kishan and Suryakumar flayed SRH's attack. Even though Umran came in for some punishment at the hands of the duo, he still left his indelible mark on the game by hitting Suryakumar on the helmet. As SRH's underwhelming campaign came to an end, he was also picked as a nets bowler to help the Indian side during the T20 WC and subsequently retained by the same franchise.

From nobody, Umran has suddenly become somebody in the cricketing world. And the IPL has undoubtedly played a part in bringing his talents into the limelight. “To play in the IPL, you need to have confidence; if you're playing domestic, you need to have the confidence that I can play. I had the confidence that I can do well in the nets and in the next year I would play for SRH. IPL is that kind of a platform, from where you can play for India, if you're doing well. This is the world's biggest league, if you bowl well, then good things can happen,” says Umran.

It doesn't seem far away before Umran will fulfil his dreams of wearing the India cap. As Ateeb says: “He told us that he wants to play cricket, he wants to play for India, it was his dream to play for India.”

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