Hastening Jasprit Bumrah’s return could result in injuries
In the second week of January, the BCCI, while announcing Jasprit Bumrah’s sudden withdrawal from the Sri Lanka series, said it was a “precautionary measure” and that India’s top pacer “needed more time to build his bowling resilience”.
While there has been no official update on his fitness, those in the know say Bumrah, who recently underwent surgery on his injury-prone back in New Zealand, may be out for most of the year, and has been ruled out. The Indian Premier League, the World Test Championship final and even the 50-over World Cup in October-November.
Pacer will return to India by the end of the month or first week of April. After his return, the Indian team’s decision-makers will meet at the Cricket Academy (NCA) to map out a broad roadmap for Bumrah’s comeback, which will be closely monitored by a medical team.
“His back is in a fragile state now. Also, Bumrah’s comeback accelerated in the last time. As he was not fully recovered, he had discomfort while bowling on his return. This time, we are more conservative as a wrong call can even result in a career-threatening injury,” said a BCCI official.
There has been a shroud of secrecy surrounding Bumrah’s treatment, rehabilitation and recovery. “Many in the BCCI are not aware of his injury. Only VVS Laxman (Director of NCA) has been assigned to talk to him and the physios. The selection committee has also been told that they will be briefed on Bumrah’s actual injury and rehabilitation details in due course,” the official added.
Having been ruled out of the Asia Cup in September last year, Bumrah was also forced to sit out the T20 World Cup due to a stress reaction in his back. After undergoing rehabilitation at the NCA, he was due to play in the home season which began with T20s against Sri Lanka. Instead, Bumrah was once again dropped from the team after he complained of back pain after bowling three times in a practice session.
Those who work with Bumrah say that this was the stage where they started preparing for the worst. Back injuries, especially stress reactions that exacerbate stress fractures, are some of the worst a fastball can sustain. Going under the knife was a possible line of treatment, but they said surgery was difficult. And that is why the NCA consulted specialists from around the world before deciding to send Bumrah to New Zealand.
Returning to the field after a stress fracture or stress reaction is not easy, as it can force a bowler to redo their action from the starting point to landing and release. From Harvinder Singh in the late 1990s to L Balaji in the mid-2000s, Indian pacers have suffered similar injuries to Bumrah, and both took a long time to come back.
For Balaji, it was even more difficult as he underwent multiple surgeries at the peak of his career and made a successful comeback by reshaping his action with the help of former cricketer WV Raman and strength and conditioning coach Ramji Srinivasan.
The big ones suffered
Greg Chappell, who saw great pacer Dennis Lillee undergo surgery for a stress fracture in 1973, recalled what it was like to watch the fiery pacer. “The role of a fast bowler is synonymous with injury and I was lucky enough to learn how my father taught me when Lillee suffered stress fractures in his back during the 1973 tour of the West Indies. Lillee spent six months in a body cast from his waist to his armpits and then another 12 months as a batsman. as playing club cricket while rebuilding his body and his act,” Chappell wrote in The Guardian.
According to Ramji, who supported Harvinder and Balaji’s rehabilitation program along with Lillee as part of the MRF Pace Foundation, the post-surgery rehabilitation period is even more critical for Bumrah.
“It starts with aqua training, because any force you apply in the water would be dissipated equally in all directions. The back is a hot spot, and it shouldn’t take all the pressure, it should be distributed. In neck-deep water, it starts with walking, then gradually warms up, stretches and knees it goes up. And then you break the running stride into different parts: takeoff, midair and landing and watch the knee and hip position. All of that would happen in a pool for a month and a half and then it becomes land and water training. The last part is to run and start bowling It would be on the floor,” Ramji said.
Former Pakistan all-rounder Shoaib Akhtar, who underwent multiple surgeries, spoke to The Indian Express about the mental strain of a serious injury. “Every operation is traumatizing. When the team is playing, you’re desperate to sit. You keep asking, “why?” because everyone wants to get on the floor and play. The rehabilitation process is the most difficult, those seven to eight months are challenging. Sitting at home and doing nothing is the toughest time for any cricketer. I’ve been through so many injuries. Family and friends are needed and only players with a big heart will make a comeback,” said Akhtar.
Bumrah’s struggles with his back began when he became an all-format player. Going forward, it remains to be seen how the Indian board handles the bowler with a freak action. “He’s got a kind of hyperextension in his back,” said former Australian paper Brett Lee. “Bumrah’s action tries to create extreme pace outside two or three paces. You can’t tell an A380 to take off at 10 meters. He would play a track. If he increases his steps, he will relieve his back. I hope he will be fine. I’ve had 10 surgeries in my life, but I’m still able to bowl,” Lee said.
Given that some players have had recurring injuries, there are concerns about Bumrah, especially if his back injury is a factor in all the setbacks he has faced. But Ramji gives hope.
“For fast bowlers, the glutes, hamstrings, calf muscles, shin muscles, ankles are important. If these are strong and stable, they act as shock absorbers and the back will not take the pressure.”