OPINION

Umran Malik: Journey from plastic ball cricket to Team India

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How the heroics in IPL steered Malik in India's Twenty20 International squad

By: Kunal Shrivatsa

“When you have a dream, you’ve got to grab it and never let go,” says a famous American actress Carol Burnett. Burnett’s words aptly describes the journey of the son of the soil and the new speed sensation, Umran Malik, who has come a long way in realizing his sole and biggest dream of making it into the Indian Cricket team.

On May 22, Umran Malik was named in India’s Twenty20 International (T20I) squad for their five match home series against South Africa starting from June 9.

“At Parade Ground he met cricket coach Rajinder Singh Manhas, who saw a spark in him and his contribution in Umran’s growth as a cricketer is unparalleled. Manhas knew Umran had the talent. But Umran was not regularly attending training sessions which somewhat annoyed Manhas, who scolded him and told that he would only know and love the taste of cricket when you had its addiction,” he added.

Umran Malik returned to his hometown on May 24, after his heroics in IPL 2022 for the last few months. Coming back home for the first time since becoming a household name with his gun blazing deliveries for Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH), he gifted his father a Thar car as the entire Union Territory of J&K particularly Jammu celebrated his inclusion in the Indian team.

Umran, who was born on November 22, 1999, spent his earlier childhood in Gujjar Nagar locality of old Jammu city.

About 10 years ago, the Malik family moved to Malik Market locality in Channi Rama, an area on Jammu city’s outskirts, where they presently reside.

Under the guidance of South African pace legend Dale Steyn at SRH, Umran has turned the spotlight on himself with ability to trouble the batters with speed—his fastest delivery was clocked at 157 kph. Used mainly in the middle-overs by skipper Kane Williamson, he had batters hopping with deliveries aimed at their heads while also displaying a knack to pick up wickets by hitting fuller lengths and moving the ball.

Umran started taking keen interest in cricket at the tender age of four, picking up the initial nitty-gritty of the game with a plastic ball at his home and lanes of Gujjar Nagar.

His father, Abdul Rashid Malik, who operates a small vend of fruits and vegetables just adjacent to Congress Headquarters in Shaheedi Chowk area of Jammu city, was probably the biggest support system for Umar to chase his dream of playing for India one day.

Even with his meager income, Abdul Rashid Malik never let his son Umar’s dream of becoming an International cricketer to go off track.

Malik while taking care of his family consisting of wife Seema Bibi, two daughters Saima and Shehnaz and son Umran, always tried his best to provide every necessity to them.

With his father’s unflinching support and help to focus on his cricketing career as a fast bowler Umran slowly moved up the ladder of the sport called cricket.

“Umran had developed a liking for cricket when he was around 4 years old. As soon as he came back from school he would run towards river Tawi where he would join other boys to play cricket. He would not even eat or change his school uniform. Such was his passion for the game,” said Umran’s father.

“While returning home from school he (Umran) would cross my shop and approach me with a request for money to purchase a plastic ball but when I used to reach home in night the ball would have disappeared. When I felt one ball was not sufficient for him, I used to purchase a full packet containing 12 balls but even that was not enough for him as he would use all balls in one single day,” he added.

Malik said that since he (Umran) started from plastic ball cricket, he was self taught in his initial journey of becoming a fast bowler.

Umran’s relatives, friends and family members credited his father’s hard work for his success saying, “He runs a small fruit and vegetable shop all these years but never let financial pressure of the family affect him. A bowling spikes costs a lot and he would just get the best for him.”

“He had raw pace but there was hardly any proper professional guidance which was a luxury back then for me as I could not afford coaching for him. Then a moment came in his life when he started to make rounds of GGM Science College Ground as well as Parade Ground to play cricket with a seasonal ball. He made it a regular habit. He took one step at a time,” said Umran’s father.

“At Parade Ground he met cricket coach Rajinder Singh Manhas, who saw a spark in him and his contribution in Umran’s growth as a cricketer is unparalleled. Manhas knew Umran had the talent. But Umran was not regularly attending training sessions which somewhat annoyed Manhas, who scolded him and told that he would only know and love the taste of cricket when you had its addiction,” he added.

This little bit of scolding from coach Manhas had a lasting impact on Umran, who thereafter, never skipped a coaching session and made it a routine to maintain a grueling training regime.

The biggest life changing moment for Umran came in 2017 when he underwent trials for the Under-19 team of J&K, who was coached by former Indian cricketer Irfan Pathan then.

“Irfan Pathan took very good care of Umran during the Under-19 trials. He even advised Umran to alter his leap a little bit just before delivering the ball,” said Umran’s father.

Umran made his Twenty20 debut on 18 January 2021, for Jammu & Kashmir in the 2020–21 version of Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy. He made his List A debut on 27 February 2021, for Jammu & Kashmir in the 2020–21 Vijay Hazare Trophy. In September 2021, Malik was named a short-term COVID-19 replacement for T Natarajan by the Sunrisers Hyderabad in the 2021 Indian Premier League.

In April 2021, he was selected as one of three net bowlers for 2021 Indian Premier League (IPL). On October 3, 2021, he made his debut in the IPL, against Kolkata Knight Riders, during the 49th match of 2021 Indian Premier League. He gained attention during the match between Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) and Royal Challengers Bangalore, when he bowled five balls in a row at more than 150 kmph. As a result of his fast-bowling, he was named as a net bowler for India’s team for the 2021 ICC Men’s T20 World Cup. He made his first-class debut on 23 November 2021, for India A against South Africa A.Umran, who was retained by Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH), has had a breakout season. He was the fifth-highest IPL wicket-taker with 22 scalps in 14 matches. On 27 April 2022, in the 2022 Indian Premier League match against the Gujarat Titans, Umran took his first five-wicket haul in Twenty20 cricket.

Umran’s 5/25 is the second-best bowling figure ahead of the playoffs which earned him a man of the match award despite his team losing the game.

Under the guidance of South African pace legend Dale Steyn at SRH, Umran has turned the spotlight on himself with ability to trouble the batters with speed—his fastest delivery was clocked at 157 kph. Used mainly in the middle-overs by skipper Kane Williamson, he had batters hopping with deliveries aimed at their heads while also displaying a knack to pick up wickets by hitting fuller lengths and moving the ball.

Umran’s relatives, friends and family members credited his father’s hard work for his success saying, “He runs a small fruit and vegetable shop all these years but never let financial pressure of the family affect him. A bowling spikes costs a lot and he would just get the best for him.”

“Now it is up to Umran to perform to the best of his ability whenever he gets the chance against South Africa and make the opportunity count,” they added.

kunal.shrivatsa@gmail.com

 

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