Bowling at speeds over150 kph, Malik’s rise through the ranks of Indian cricket has been rewarded with a selection for the national team – a dream come true for the 22-year-old.
It was the 50th match of the Indian Premier League (IPL) between Delhi Capitals (DC) and Sun Risers Hyderabad (SRH). As Umran Malik, India’s ascendant pace bowler came out to bowl the fourth ball of the last over, history was created.
At 157 kilometres per hour (kph), Malik not only bowled the fastest ball of the season (until Lockie Ferguson hit 157.3 kph on Sunday’s IPL final), but also the third-fastest in the history of IPL.
It was a life-changing moment for Malik, as he soon caught the eye of distinguished cricketers like Harbhajan Singh, Dale Steyn and others, who backed him to be inducted into the Indian team.
Immediately after the match, Harbhajan Singh told reporters, “What a bowler he is. Name a pacer bowling at over 150 kph and not playing for the country. He will inspire many youngsters to take up this game. I don’t know if he will be selected or not but if I was part of the selection committee, I would have given him a go-ahead.”
And on May 22, when the Indian squad for the upcoming T20 series against South Africa was announced, the Kashmiri pacer was included in the 18-member squad, making his dream of playing for India come true.
It makes Malik the third ever cricketer from Indian-administered Kashmir to be selected to the Indian national team, after Parvez Rasool and Vivek Razdan.
Shortly after his selection, Malik was seen celebrating the moment with Irfan Pathan, a former Indian cricketer, who has been an integral part of his journey.
Malik’s father, Abdul Rashid, who runs a fruit shop at Shaheedi Chowk in Jammu’s Gujjar Nagar, has been experiencing the height of happiness. Not only has he gained celebrity status because of his son, but people have also come to refer to his shop as ‘Umran’s father shop’.
“The best part is that now my son will be wearing the Indian jersey. Since childhood, we have been dreaming of this day and now when everything is coming alive, I don’t even know how to express it,” Rashid told.
Sharing an anecdote about his childhood. Rashid says “we never stopped him from playing cricket. More than me it was his mother who ensured that her son gets everything. For us, it was never about forcing asking him to study, but ensuring that he is able to turn his dream of becoming a cricketer into reality.”
Rising through the ranks
“I still remember when in 2017 Umran walked up to me with another friend of his, Abdul Samad, and asked to bowl an over. As there was a dearth of players that day, I gave him the ball and with the very first delivery that he bowled, I was sure that this guy has a natural ability to be a pace bowler. I was highly impressed with him,” Randhir Singh Manhas, Malik’s coach told TRT World.
Manhas has been working at the Jammu and Kashmir Cricket Association (JKCA) since 1995. After his first performance, Manhas advised Malik to admit himself to JKCA and immediately start training.
After doing so, however, Malik’s carelessness made Manhas doubt his potential.
“In a week he would come for three days and then skip the next three. This made me worried that the talent of this boy would just be wasted if he remains indisciplined. At this point, I approached him and told him clearly that he has the potential to play for India. Upon hearing this he started laughing, [but when] I gave him a stern look he realised his mistake,” Manhas recalls.
“Since then he never missed a single day at coaching.”
As his coaching continued, in 2018 he trialed for the under-23 J&K cricket team, but was not selected. It was also around this time when Irfan Pathan was also made a part of JKCA and had his eyes fixed on Umran.
His journey then took a U-turn from here.
During the 2019-2020 Ranji Trophy (a domestic cricket championship) matches, the J&K cricket team was about to play against Assam. Ajay Ratra, former Indian cricketer and currently the coach of the Assam team, asked for a net bowler. Malik stepped up and bowled, and after four deliveries, Ratra took the ball away because of his lightning quick pace.
Although impressed by Malik’s bowling, Ratra feared that he might end up injuring players from the Assam team.
Recalling this episode, Manhas says “Mr Ratra was taken aback by the fact that Umran was not selected for the J&K cricket team. Later on, he even talked to the staff and captain of the J&K team about this.”
Another impediment during Malik’s journey was the pandemic-induced lockdown in 2020. However, it was his sheer will and commitment during this time that is helping him now earn accolades from the whole country and cricketing fraternity.
“In May 2020, when the whole country was under a strict covid lockdown, Umran with few other colleagues of his took special permission from the J&K administration to continue his coaching. They would start around 1pm and continue till 5pm. “It was during this time that he really worked on his line and length,” Manhas told TRT World.
It was also during one of these training sessions that his friend Abdul Samad took a video of his bowling and showed it to the staff of Sun Risers Hyderabad (SRH). Impressed by his pace, the staff of SRH soon enlisted him as a practice bowler.
Finally, in 2021, Umran got a chance to play for the SRH franchise and in his debut IPL season, he stunned everyone by bowling five balls in a row over 150 kph.
Manhas feels that now what Umran needs is proper guidance and 3-4 years of international cricketing experience. Being under the tutelage of the country’s best players is likely to bring diversity to his bowling.
Furthermore, he believes being trained by Dale Steyn – a former South African pace bowler – will only improve his bowling performance.
Manhas plans to retire by September this year, and after being a coach for more than 22 years, he is elated that a player he coached is now becoming a key part of India’s rising pace bowling attack.
With his fingers crossed, Manhas’ wish is that Malik is able to turn his mercurial talent into creating history for Indian cricket.