Jasprit Bumrah: The complete bowler, whatever the format

Jasprit Bumrah's excellence in all three formats makes him stand out Getty Images

Virat Kohli has called Jasprit Bumrah the most complete bowler in world cricket, and it's difficult to argue with that, given the sort of numbers that Bumrah has racked up over the last three-and-a-half years.

When he made his international debut at the beginning of 2016, Bumrah was seen largely as a limited-overs bowler. He had played 47 T20s and taken 52 wickets at an economy rate of 7.34 till that point, the highlight being a haul of 24 wickets in just 14 games in two - 2015 and 2016 - editions of the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, at an average of 14.75 and an economy rate of 6.61. And in two seasons of the 50-over Vijay Hazare Trophy, he had 34 wickets in 14 games at an average of 15.20 and an economy rate of 3.82. Clearly, the call-up to the national limited-overs team was justified.

Bumrah did well in his first two years in international cricket, taking 56 wickets in 31 ODIs and 40 in 32 T20Is, and was rewarded with his Test debut in Cape Town in 2018, getting into the XI ahead of Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav. Eyebrows were raised at the time - Bumrah's first-class record was decent but not extraordinary: 89 wickets in 26 matches - but the Indian think tank clearly saw something special in him. Less than two years down the line, the rest of the world is seeing it too.

The numbers so far are staggering: in ODIs, he has picked up 103 wickets from 58 games at an average of 21.88 and an economy rate of 4.49; in T20Is, 42 games have fetched him 51 wickets at an economy rate of 6.71 (apart from 82 wickets in 77 IPL games). But it's in Test matches that he has sparkled the brightest, taking 62 wickets from 12 matches at an average of 19.24.

With a 20-wicket cut-off in each format, Bumrah is the only bowler to average less than 22 in Tests, ODIs and T20Is in the last ten years. He is also one of only three bowlers to take 50-plus wickets in his first 12 Tests, and 100-plus in his first 58 ODIs; Shane Bond and Brett Lee are the others.

Before going further, though, a caveat. These are still very early days in Bumrah's international career. Great bowlers achieve their greatness by maintaining their standards over several years; Bumrah has been around less than two years as a Test-match bowler. However, in that period, he has played Tests in different conditions, with different balls, and has shown himself to be good enough to adapt and learn quickly, the last evident in his debut Test itself, when he followed a nervy and wayward first-innings show - 1 for 73 - with a much-improved second innings - 3 for 39. His outstanding skill set is complemented by a remarkably even and cool temperament. The superlatives have more than a little justification: in the last 60 years, only three other bowlers have taken 62 or more wickets in their first 12 Tests at a sub-20 average.

In his short career so far, Bumrah had played Tests in four different countries - South Africa, England, Australia, West Indies - and has taken a five-for in each of those countries. The fourth five-for - in the first Test against West Indies - came in his 11th Test, which is the fewest ever played by a bowler to take five-fors in four different countries. (There are more than 170 bowlers with 50-plus Test wickets who have played in more than three countries in their first 12 Tests, so the list of bowlers who make the cut is reasonably large.)

Just as batting in the longest format requires an entirely different skillset and mindset compared to the shorter versions, so too does bowling, which is why Bumrah's immediate success in Tests is remarkable. In Tests, a bowler needs plenty of patience, plus the ability to stick to a plan, and hit similar areas repeatedly; T20s, on the other hand, is all about constant variations to keep the batsman guessing, to such an extent that each ball should be different from the previous one. Bumrah has excelled at both.

Bumrah's overall Test average of 19.24 and strike rate of 43.7 are impressive enough, but his numbers against the top order is even more special: against the top seven batsmen in a line-up, he averages 19.78, with 47 wickets at a strike rate of 46.3. With a 40-wicket cut-off over the last 15 years, no bowler has a better average against the top-seven batsmen (103 bowlers make this cut-off).

And here is another stat to show how special a bowler he has become in such a short span of time. In his 12 Tests so far, he has outstanding numbers against both right- and left-handed batsmen, averaging less than 23 against both. In ODIs, the difference in both average and economy rates against right and left-handers is even lesser. In international cricket, there are several bowlers who show a clear preference in terms of bowling to one type of batsmen. Bumrah isn't one of them - he is equally lethal against both.

In his 12 Tests, Bumrah has already nabbed five five-wicket hauls, and a feature of those five-fors has been the rate at which he has got those wickets. Apart from the 6 for 27 and 5 for 7 in the West Indies, he also took 6 for 33 at the MCG and 5 for 54 in Johannesburg. His only five-for which cost more than 60 runs was at Trent Bridge, when he took 5 for 85.

In those five-fors, Bumrah averages 7.62 runs per wicket, and 18.6 balls per wicket. With a cut-off of five five-wicket hauls in the last 80 years, only two bowlers have a better average in innings when they have dismissed at least half the side, and four have a better strike rate.

It's true that Bumrah has played each of his 12 Tests outside India, but most of those matches were played in conditions that were good for bowling. That is reflected in the fact that in these 12 Tests, the other bowlers averaged 27.96 to Bumrah's 19.24. So while the conditions were good for bowling, Bumrah's average was still 1.45 times better than the other bowlers who bowled in those matches.

How does this compare with other bowlers who have had fantastic starts to their careers - say, in the last 30 years?

Among bowlers who took at least 50 wickets in their first 12 Tests, there are ten others with better ratios. The best is Vernon Philander, who was sensational in his first 12 Tests, taking 67 wickets at 17.98, while the other bowlers in those Tests averaged 40.27; that means Philander's average was a whopping 2.24 times better. The others in this list include Waqar Younis, Shane Bond, the two Mohammads - Abbas and Asif - Josh Hazlewood, and Yasir Shah. This is also a function of the quality of other bowlers who played in those matches, and there were some fine bowlers who played in these 12 Tests that Bumrah has played so far - India have had a potent pace (and spin) attack during this period, and South Africa, England, Australia and West Indies have also had top-class bowlers in their line-ups.

The bowlers in the above list, though, have all largely played one or two formats. That Bumrah has achieved such excellence in all three formats is what marks him out from most other bowlers going around today. He is still only 25, and if he stays injury free, expect several more highs for him in what should be an exceptional career, in all three formats.