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Umran Malik, the pacer who can rattle batters at speeds of 150 kmph

It was much like a caring father reacting to a son’s achievement. A hint of a smile and the nod of the head said it all. Umran Malik had well and truly arrived and Dale Steyn, as coach, couldn’t be happier. Steyn, who had done it for years in his prime, was elated to see stumps flying around to balls hurled at 153 kmph speed, something Umran has started to do regularly this IPL.

Pace is a very rare skill. You either have it or you don’t. And if you do, it can also suddenly go away with one injury. So, it has to be protected at any cost. Take the case of Munaf Patel for example. He had very good pace at the time he came on to the scene. He could rattle batters with his yorkers. However, it did not last long. Munaf sustained a number of injuries in his first couple of years in international cricket and by the time he returned to the national team, he had lost a few yards in pace.

Malik has the pace. To be able to bowl 150 kmph consistently is an incredibly rare talent that can make a huge difference to Indian cricket going forward. Ball coming at that pace is never easy to negotiate, however good a batter is. Malik, who is in his second season with Sunrisers Hyderabad, is only expected to get better from here on.

If the ball to Shreyas Iyer in the match against KKR — 149kph in block hole that left his stumps shattered — is anything to go by, he is a serious prospect for India in the next few years. And then that spell (5/25) against the Gujarat Titans. In most cases even before the batter could get the bat down, the stumps had been shattered. Malik in his trademark style with both hands up in celebration memorialised each wicket.

Malik is still a work in progress. With him every now and then you will get a bouncer which will fly over the keeper’s head for five extra runs. It is natural and has already happened quite a few times in the tournament. With someone who is raw and striving for pace, these things happen. But when it lands on target, he can rattle the batters.

Malik, not too long ago, was being trolled for being expensive and erratic. That’s the worst thing to do to a youngster. Steyn is hugely impressed with Malik. Time isn’t far away when Rohit Sharma and Rahul Dravid too start taking an active interest in him. Malik can be the X-factor alongside Jasprit Bumrah, Mohamed Shami and Mohamed Siraj, not to forget Shardul Thakur, It’s safe to conjecture the Chetan Sharma-led committee is already watching him closely.

Malik is now a hero in Jammu and Kashmir. He is a story of triumph amidst all adversity. He is a “Yes we can” story and that’s the kind of impact you want to see sports have on people. For the sake of Indian cricket, and more importantly Indian society, one hopes Malik only gets better from here on.

Malik could well be the Rashid Khan equivalent for aspiring youngsters from Jammu and Kashmir. A beacon of hope and a torch bearer. People have suffered a lot in that part of India and need Malik like success stories. He is all the good that sport stands for and shows why the IPL is such a great platform for youngsters with ability. It is where talent meets opportunity.

What is also great to see with Malik is his temperament. While his celebrations are great to watch, we haven’t seen him curse or say much to the batters. With Malik the early signs are all good. He has already made a case for inclusion in India’s T20 side for the South Africa series. With the T20 World Cup in October, it is an experiment well worth it.

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